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.

What was inpatient rehab really like? Part I

It’s been nearly a year since I talked about my experience at inpatient rehab, and the positive reaction I got to the last Q&A has made me think it’s probably time to revisit it from a first-person point-of-view deeper than I have before.

This is going to be a multi-part piece as I think it’s worthy of really explaining what rehab is like. I’ll try to stay under 1,000 words per piece.

I’m going to talk about my experience at the second rehab I attended in the summer of 2015, specifically for the pornography addiction. The first facility I attended was in California for alcohol treatment. While it was a transformative experience, it was more about me being alone with my thoughts in the desert vs. any amazing modalities of treatment they provided.

The rehabilitation center I’m talking about, Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was an intense and invaluable experience. I believe that if I had not spent seven weeks in that hot Lone Star State sun I would not be the person I am today.

I’ve said it before, but on paper, rehab shouldn’t work. You shouldn’t be able to take 30-40 very broken people, many of whom are forced into the situation by their family or the law, and get positive results.

There are quite a few rules one must follow. In the case of Sante, you had to be up by 6:30 a.m., at the morning group for 7:30, attend your classes, groups and one-on-one meetings during the day, and be in bed by 11 p.m. Although most of the classes were co-ed, men and women were kept separate for many activities, including meals, and they were not allowed onto each other’s side of the facility where the dorms were. Men and women were also not allowed to be left alone in one-on-one situations.

You were given 15 minutes a day for telephone calls, were not allowed to leave the property except in the rarest of circumstances and all outside media, including magazines and books, were considered contraband. The only connection to outside news we had was a copy of the Dallas Morning News and whatever we were told on the telephone.

The biggest news event that happened while I was there was the national ruling allowing gay marriage. I’m from Maine, so it had been a thing here for a while, but if you’re someone like me who is social liberally and you enjoy watching conservatives squirm in the face of change – which I do – being in the heart of the Bible Belt when that went down was glorious.

I think I didn’t have too rough a transition into the jail environment because in many ways, rehab was a lot like a minimum security prison. Sure, you could walk away, but to where? It was like Alcatraz in the middle of nowhere.

In my circumstance, I had to stay. I was there for the therapy, but my lawyer also thought a treatment completed certificate would go a long way for my legal case. I learned so much about myself, but I had extra incentive to stick around and see things through to the end.

At first, the way they do things seems foreign. In the morning meeting, each person goes around and says who they are, what they are grateful for and what their plan is for the day while the group responds. For instance, I might say,

“Hello, my name is Josh”

“Hi, Josh” the group says back in Stepford Wives unison.

“…and I’m a pornography addict.”

“But you’re so much more,” they say together in a dead montone.

“Yes I am. Today I am grateful for the support of my family.”

“Yes, you are,” they say.

“And today I’m going to work on my listening skills.”

“Yes you will,” they respond, and then the next person goes.

On day one, this seems completely fucking nutty. By day 21, you’re chanting along with the rest of them. Throughout both of my rehabs, I heard a lot of people say they thought that the program was designed as something of a brainwashing exercise. Most counselors or professionals always shrugged it off, but my favorite reaction came from one counselor who agreed.

“Look at the choices you’ve been making. Don’t you think a little brainwashing might be exactly what you need?” he told somebody. I thought it was brilliant.

There was also a section of the morning meeting where people would self-report breaking the rules, or admit to not keeping up a promise. For instance, if I didn’t work on my listening skills, I was supposed to self-report the following day.

The final section of the meeting was confrontations. This was when somebody else would confront you about one of your behaviors and you couldn’t respond for 24 hours. We used the “When You/I Feel” confrontation model.

For instance, I might say, “Michael, when you stop coming to yoga and meditation classes, I feel worried that you’re not taking in the full scope of rehab.”

The next day at the morning meeting, you’re supposed to say if the confrontation fits, or does not fit, and leave it at that.

This caused a little bit of bad blood among certain people and I realized very earlier on that I did not want to confront people. I believed that each of us had a program to work and if somebody didn’t want to put their all into it, or didn’t want to follow their rules, that was on them. One of the counselors there confronted me on this opinion, but I still hold true to it today. Maybe it’s wrong, but unless you’re doing something massively wrong or hurting someone else, it’s not my spot to police you.