Recovery Included the Surprisingly Therapeutic Task of Simplifying My Life Story

I’ve been a professional writer since I was 17 years old, which means people have been paying me to put words down on paper that others presumably want to read for 26 years now. Oddly enough, it’s a couple of non-paying assignments that I think have helped me the most in recent years.

Despite a few need-to-survive, part-time jobs here and there, writing is all I’ve ever really done in my professional life, yet I know if I never got a cent again, writing would continue to be the cheapest and one of the most crucial parts of my recovery.

When I entered my first rehab for alcoholism in April 2014, one of the first assignments given to me was to write my autobiography to share with the group. Every newbie got this assignment. While telling our overall story, we were asked to focus in on the things that brought us to rehab. I ended up writing 56 pages. When Bob, my caseworker, heard about this, he said that I should not read mine, and just tell the story from memory.

I thought I was doing everyone a favor because most of my fellow residents wrote three or four pages. I wanted to show everybody writing was my strength and delight them with an epic tale of triumph and tragedy. Then, I couldn’t even read it.

Fast-forward a year or so and I’ve entered my second rehab for the porn addiction. Once again, they asked me as a newcomer to share my story. Remembering that I went overboard at the first place, I wrote 30 pages this time. I did get to read it in my daily small group session, but the feedback was still that it was too long. There were many important parts of the story, but they were buried within sections that were just long anecdotes, the group agreed.

After I got out of jail, one of my probation conditions was to participate in group therapy with men who also had sexual offenses. Unsurprisingly, I was told to write my life story. This time, I wrote about eight pages and nobody complained about the length. After three attempts over three years, I was finally able to highlight the important parts of the story. The point of the assignment clicked.

* * *

All three times, I was required to write my story by hand. Maybe that should have been a clue it didn’t need to be a novel. Writing by hand is a bit of an old trick, believed to force the writer to think about their words more carefully. I can type around 75 words per minute, but I know I can’t write that fast.

My story isn’t about funny or interesting events that happened at my jobs. It isn’t about trying to prove I’m a good father or husband. Nobody needs a rundown of places I’ve travelled or sidebars full of opinion. Most of my failures and triumphs have just been run-of-the-mill and had no serious long-term effects on my life.

No, my story is about a kid who was raised by decent parents who made the one mistake of picking the wrong babysitter. The time spent at that babysitter created maladaptive coping skills, which were only enhanced when I developed early addictions to pornography and alcohol. Despite putting together a fairly normal life, those addictions and poor coping skills remained. I was (finally) correctly diagnosed with mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, in my early 20s, but despite therapy and medication, I continued as a functional addict. That stopped in my mid-30s when negative conditions in my life caused a complete breakdown. Part of the breakdown involved an illegal act, but that was my opportunity to seek help. I’ve done well in recovery, never having relapsed, and now have coping skills and tools that were lacking for years. I’m relatively content now as I warn others of the harm of pornography addiction and make up for lost time with my family.

That’s it. That’s my life. Despite the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written, that’s what it comes down to and I think it’s important I can sum it up in 160 words. It allows me to focus on what’s really important. Yes, details count, but in this case brevity is therapeutic.

I know many of the people reading this have their own blogs, or do a lot of writing as part of their professional endeavors, but if you’ve never done it, I would urge all of you to write your life story in five or six pages and then write a single paragraph summarizing it. If you write long, edit it down when finished. Given those somewhat limiting parameters, it’s surprising what you can learn about yourself.

Getting Trivial Things Off Of My Chest – December Edition

I have a feeling the next week-and-a-half is going to be busy and with a packed schedule comes a lack of maintaining this blog. I can directly trace my busiest times of the year with how many (or how few) blog postings I’ve made. So, this might be it for 2018 unless I toss up a Q&A.

At one point earlier this year, I would have made sure to have at least two more entries. I followed my statistics much closer then. I don’t think that’s the best reason for writing a blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I know a blog with the term “porn” in the title will scare away some people and many computer filters don’t let people get to my site because of the topic of the content. It’s ironic the very people who could use this site are the ones being denied by clunky content filters.

It reminds me of back in like 1996, when the newspaper I was working at just got the Internet. The IT guy (yeah, I’m looking at you Ray) who had your typical Napoleon Complex that comes with a lot of these guys who were picked last in gym, installed a hardcore filtering system. I once did a story on a woman who survived breast cancer and tried to get some statistics, but couldn’t look it up because the word “breast” was in the search.

Anyway, earlier this year I justified that following stats was important because the higher the numbers I had, the more people I was helping. In reality, I think it also gave me a bit of an adrenaline rush to see such high numbers. I mentioned this to my therapist once and she is often of the opinion, “If you’re not hurting anyone or yourself, does it matter?” I understand this philosophy, but think part of my illness through most of my life was the constant attention I was seeking from strangers. While a much lesser example, I still think checking my stats three times a day was more indicative of a popularity contest than a completely altruistic mission to help people.

I’m sure that when the new book comes out sometime next year (my guess is late spring at this point, but these things seem to have a way of getting delayed) I’ll be on here shilling it almost daily, but I’ve decided to not live by a posting schedule in 2019. There’s a lot of good material I’ve written and I hope people search it out if they need help. I’m just not going to be a slave to posting in hopes it pays off in ego points.

 

Speaking of ego points, if any of you have ever thought of publishing a book, be wary of those “publishers” who try to play to your ego and are in it to make money off of you. Now, we can argue the word “legitimate” when I say “legitimate publishers” but to me, that means a publisher who tries to make money off the book, not the book’s author.

Despite a recent spat, the publisher of my first book NEVER asked how many copies I was going to buy, nor made that contingent upon publishing.

The new book is getting interest from a handful of publishers. One of them asked if they could send a contract. I said OK because I want to see as many potential deals as possible. I won’t mention the name of the company here, but after an exchange of several emails and a nice telephone conversation, their deal came in the mail the other day.

While I had a couple problems with the deal, the real red flags went off when I got to the section of the contract that stated we had to purchase 500 books as part of the initial deal at right around $9 each.

No legitimate publisher is ever going to ask you to purchase your book. In fact, much like the other offer we’re currently considering, they should offer you at least 10 free copies of your book.

For the $4,500 that new publisher wants us to spend, we could self-publish and get far more than 500 copies. We said thank you, but no thank you.

I understand the urge to not self-publish – I don’t want to do it – but if the only publishers interested in your work want a large paycheck with it, that’s not somebody you want to do business with. If your book is that good, they’ll get behind it and have some skin in the game to make it a success.

 

Before I wrap this up, I just want to take the opportunity to thank those of you who rode with me the entire year and those who just jumped on board in recent weeks. While I try to keep this kind of stuff in perspective, I appreciate when you hit the like button, share a blog I’ve written on Facebook or share your comments. The reality is, we need to talk about pornography use and pornography addiction before we can, as a society, tackle the problem. I share statistics all the time that indicate the problem is getting worse, not better. Those of us willing to face it (even by just passively reading what I present shows you’re interested in the conversation, which is far more engaged than the vast majority of society) are still in the minority, but hopefully if we can continue to not judge, and maintain a safe space for addicts to come forward, we can begin to put some small dents in the problem.

Once again, thank you. I value each and every one of you.

Help Me Figure This Out: Am I Overreacting to this Situation?

Maybe this is just me venting, or maybe I’m looking for validation that I’ve been treated poorly or maybe I need to hear that I should just shut up and accept things, but I’ve been dealing with a situation over the last day involving a library where I was going to be giving a presentation about pornography addiction. They decided to back out and I just need somebody to let me know what they think from an independent perspective.

I don’t want this to come off as sour grapes on my part, so I’m not going to talk specifically about where the library is or the names of the people I’m dealing with. I understand that they are legally entitled to do whatever they want. I just want to know if I’m correct in thinking that I’ve been treated unfairly. Sometimes I have a complex about these things.

Some background:

In early March, after donating a copy to this library in a nearby state, I was taken up on my offer to give the presentation “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About” which while it shares a title with my book, it is more an educational lecture about pornography addiction, looking at statistics and what the signs of addiction are, while also sharing pieces of my story. The whole “porn addiction expert” thing comes from having the experience of being one, plus being well-studied on the subject. This presentation is the best of both worlds.

About three weeks after we set a date for May, I was sent an email suggesting the appearance be moved to September, for fear that a nice Sunday in May might keep potential attendees at home. I figured they knew their stuff and agreed. I haven’t spoke to them directly in almost three months.

However, as the book has caught the interest of libraries across the country (and New Zealand…no idea why 4 libraries have it there, yet I still can’t get one into a state ending in the word “Dakota”) I have periodically updated a list kept on this site. I’ve always noticed that library never appears. It was never entered into their electronic catalog.

So, anyway, we move into the last 24 hours. Yesterday I got an email that says:

Hi Joshua
Some sad news – there has been a change in directors since we last talked and they do not want this program. One of her concerns is that people would think attending indicates they have this problem too and they don’t want to have that reputation. She is the boss now so we won’t be able to work with you.
BUT
I was thinking if you set up a discussion panel with you and a therapist or some professional counselor who deals with this – that would make libraries feel more comfortable.  All the podcasts on your website lend a lot of credibility. In your letters to libraries you could mention the website with all your radio and podcast work. And maybe a library would feel better having this as part of a series on addiction:  not just including substance abuse but work addiction and adrenaline addiction – those are not talked about very much either.
I’m disappointed since I know you are doing a good work for the community. But good luck in the future.

This absolutely floored me, but I’m smart enough now to think before I speak…or write. I did want to know one thing though. What happened to the book I sent them? Much like my presentation, was it deemed too controversial? Here is the response I got:

No – I am embarrassed to say it is still on my coffee table for me to read. It definitely has not been removed. For items that could be challenged by a community member I like to read first so I can have the arguments ready as to its inclusion. In all my years of library work I have not personally had a book challenge – but you never know. Take Care

If I was floored yesterday evening at seeing the first email, this one left me looking around to see who was playing a prank on me. Maybe there was some Candid Camera/Punk’d for a new generation involving addicts or authors. It seemed more likely than somebody being serious about worrying their patrons would be seen as porn addicts or that the book would be so offensive that it needs to be examined, even if nothing in the history of the library has ever been deemed offensive. So, I decided to give myself a little bit more time and went out to lunch with my parents and my son to celebrate his last day of school a couple days ago. When I returned, I wrote this:

I have done four library presentations to this point, with (OTHER LIBRRARY) being the only other in (STATE), and I’ve not been met with any of the resistance that either you or your director seems to fear. The idea that people who attend the event are going to be labeled as porn addicts is only true if either of you are doing the labeling. Would you invite an author to present a book on the Holocaust, but assume the attendees are Nazi sympathizers? Would you not allow a book by somebody who was an Army sniper for fear attendees would be the kind of people who like to shoot others?
In (OTHER LIBRARY), I think we drew 8 or 9 people. It was mostly middle-aged women who worked in health care who wanted more education. I don’t think anybody jumped to any conclusions about them, and if they did, so what? Shouldn’t those people get the chance to hear a presentation that is about the healthcare crisis of pornography addiction? After the event, a woman, probably about 35, came up to me and admitted she had a problem and wanted help. After a couple of days of exchanging messages, she found a therapist and began attending a 12-step group for women in (NEARBY MAJOR CITY). So you’re right, you may get an addict there. In this case, it was one who finally got help. She finally met someone in real life who experienced addiction years ago, doesn’t judge and was able to be a resource.
The book is in almost 200 libraries in four countries at last count. I get email daily from some of the people who read the book. Most thank me for trying to start a discussion. To date, I’ve done over 50 radio shows and podcasts not to just promote the book, but to educate about the addiction. A recent study by Canadian researchers said that in the last 6 months, 98% of married men and 70% of married women under 35 looked at pornography. 48% of households say porn has a negative effect on their home. 24% of people have looked at porn at work in the last 6 months. If your fear is that people in (LIBRARY’S TOWN) may end up with the assumption porn addiction is a problem for many of its residents…it is. I can guarantee that, no matter how much people wish it wasn’t so. And the library should be a place that residents can find resources. If this were 1982, would books on heroin and other opiates be ignored because back then, most wanted to believe the people who used those drugs were just the kind of people society looked down upon. Now it’s hard to find a family not somehow affected. Why? Because our society was reactive to the opiod crisis, not proactive.
If this is just a matter of “porn is gross” I don’t disagree with you. There are lots of gross things in this world we wish weren’t here and it’s every individual’s right to make the decision to stay away from it. It’s just a bigger deal when that person is the gatekeeper of information in a community, much like your role and the director’s role in the library. Prior to entering recovery and learning as much as I could about this addiction, I would have fought you hard about the library’s actions because it seems so unjust to me. Somebody standing in the way of someone else delivering information because the first person doesn’t like it just smacks of censorship. I would have taken to social media and contacted the newspaper and try to stir things up, but I’m just not that guy anymore. It wouldn’t really matter anyway because it wouldn’t spread the message that porn addiction is going to be a healthcare crisis of a new variety for the 21st century. I didn’t expect a large audience, nor did I expect the book to have holds on it for the first six months in was on the shelf, but it is nice to think that, like those libraries who didn’t cancel me and who haven’t hesitated putting it on a shelf, their patrons can make that decision for themselves. I hope the irony of the title “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About” isn’t lost on anybody on your end. 
If you choose not to put the book on the shelf because it will introduce dangerous ideas to your community, I’d just ask you donate it to a Goodwill, Salvation Army or local church fair. Thank you for hearing me out.

 

I half-expected that to be the end of it. I figured the only response could be one that either doubles-down on her vague position, or admits to being wrong upon further analysis. Instead, I got a strange blow-off about an hour later earlier today:

Thank you for writing this – it is very informative.  Your book will 99.99% end up in the collection – the only delay has been that it got stuck in my reading queue but I will put it at the top now.  From the bit I have scanned through I don’t see any problems – but for due diligence I need to go through the whole thing.
It is most excellent your experience at other libraries and hearing of the kind of audiences.  Can I recommend you mentioning this in your website – the well received library visits – and the exact libraries?  If they could give you a blurb to put on your website too – that would be great. After you’ve added the library stuff to your website you can ask one of the libraries to recommend you on a listserv that most all librarians in (STATE NAME) read. Ask one of the libraries where your program was really successful to put a recommendation on the list and contact info on that list. This gives you a lot of credibility and will definitely increase your bookings.
So can I ask you to contact me in 6 months? If you’ve gotten libraries on your website and even a rec on the list – it will be an easier sell for me.

A big piece of me wants to send a response asking if they had to spend time going through all of the pro- and anti-Trump books coming out now on their shelves. A bigger piece of me wants to prod them into telling me point blank what the REAL problem is. I think I know what it is – it’s the “porn addicts are gross, we don’t want one here and would rather pretend they aren’t in our community” stance. The biggest piece wants to write back and say, “Don’t tell me how to become all prim and proper so I can possibly book your library down the road. I don’t want to step foot in your library…ever.”

But I won’t. I won’t send any of those things. I’m going to let it go as far as they are concerned.

I’m just left sitting here trying to think if I’ve been treated poorly, if I’ve been essentially discriminated against, if anybody with a porn addiction is being discriminated against and if the poor people in that town don’t have unfettered access to information at their library. It’s like Footloose, but actually important.

If nothing, it’s at least bad form to book somebody and cancel, right? I know you’re only getting my analysis of the story, although I gave you as much as I have to go on. Am I right to feel slighted and hurt or am I making too much of this? I’d love to know what you think.

Oh, and if you’re new here and don’t know the book I wrote that I’m talking about, you can get the details of it on Amazon HERE. Buy several. Send them to the residents of that New England town.

 

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – May Edition

I suppose I can announce it here, or maybe it’s not an announcement…not sure how to qualify it. For the last two months I’ve been working on a book proposal with a licensed marriage and family therapist in California who specializes in sex and porn addiction issues. The book is geared toward the partner or significant other of a porn addict who doesn’t know what to do with the revelation the have an addict in their life. This past week we started shopping it to agents. I forgot how much I hate this demeaning part of the process. I imagine it’s what a young actor feels like going to audition after audition. There’s rarely any constructive feedback, usually just flat-out rejection, or they never get back to you. Not sure which one is the rudest. I don’t know if we’ll get an agent this time out because it’s still a very new genre and most agents only make 15%. You’ve got to sell a lot of books to make that worth an agent’s time. I didn’t get an agent on my first book, eventually finding a small indie publisher who liked the idea. I feel better about our chances in that market, but it’s one of those things where if I don’t at least try to get an agent, I’ll never know what could have been.

In case you didn’t read my last entry, I finally decided to start offering porn addiction peer support and advice services. I have just been spending too much time in the last few months giving out a ton of free advice and letting that cut into the time I usually spend bringing money in with freelance writing. Hopefully this will be the best of both worlds. It’s one of those things where a lot of people have told me it’s a good idea, but who knows if it will actually develop into anything. At least I don’t have to feel as guilty not spending two hours every morning not making money. Add up a week of that and you lose more than one of my average work days.

When I finally took a Myers Briggs Test at my second rehab, I had an even score in two of the four areas. The test administrator said she’d only seen that before two or three times. When we had to divide into groups multiple times to discuss the results, she always told me, “Just do whatever you want.” I think that was a big part of what got me there. Anyway, I think there’s a duality in me that creates these kinds of situations. Long story short, I hear “Yanny” and “Laurel.”

Since I’m trying to focus on getting the new book together and opportunities that may arise from the peer support/counseling I’m offering, I’ve made the decision to stop actively promoting my current book. It’s been out for four months and has already far exceeded what I expected to sell for the year. I don’t want to be one of those people in four years who is still hanging his hat on the fact he once wrote a book. I’ll still do podcasts and stuff if I’m asked, but in an effort to be more aware of my time and what it’s worth, I need to look to future plans, not past ones.

The WorldCat library cataloging system says that my book is at Philadelphia’s public library. But I go to their site and can’t find it. City of Brotherly Love? Really? At least there’s 130 other libraries that do have it. Here’s an easy LINK to the page that lists all the libraries. And if you don’t see yours, loudly complain to your local library. That $2.20 royalty isn’t just going to make itself. Gee, maybe I’m not totally done promoting it.

Ask Me Anything… And They Are

So Monday is my usual day for an entry on my site but I have been absolutely slammed with questions for the Ask Me Anything I’m doing over at AMAHost.com  I didn’t know anything about this site until I was asked to do it last week, but I’ve now got over 30 questions answered and have actually tackled a bunch of topics that I’ve never talked about on this site beyond my porn addiction, in more depth, like my alcoholism and process for writing my book. If you have enjoyed my writing in the past, I hope you’ll click over to this site and check it out.

Click Here for my Ask Me Anything event

In Overcoming Addiction, Long-Held Dreams Can Still Come True

It’s fascinating how things work out. Andy Dufresne just wanted to work on a boat project and the younger version of Joshua Shea just wanted to walk into a library and see one of his books on a shelf. Life got in Andy’s way. He was falsely accused of killing his wife, ran a sweet embezzling scheme while behind bars and escaped prison. Of course, he was also a fictional character in The Shawshank Redemption. I, on the other hand, am as real as my mind allows me to be.

Life got in my way, too. When I was 17-year-old high school senior, I saw an ad in my local newspaper’s sports section advertising the position of “sports clerk”. The clerk’s job was to take calls from coaches whose games we didn’t cover either because they were too far away or because we didn’t have the staff and it was deemed unessential for real coverage.

One day, about six weeks after starting, the first round of fall playoff games were rained out. Since the department was down two people, the “real” adult writers were overworked and instead of giving them overtime, they gave them the day off. The editor thought we’d just fill the section with national stories.

A few hours into our shift he came to me and said, “Hey, this is the first year in like a decade the Lewiston High School field hockey team made it to the playoffs. Why don’t you call the coach and have her give you a sense why she thinks they may go far in the playoffs?”

Since I went to Lewiston, I said to my editor, “I’m friends with the two captains, I can call them both, too.” He was impressed I went the extra mile. The next morning, my first bylined story was in the paper.

I almost never had to take another sports clerk call after that day. I was given a staff writer position and was still a high school student. A couple months later, I had proven myself enough that when a job opened in the regular news department, I took it. I fell in love with journalism and never looked back.

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m a magazine publisher, I’d started a film festival and was a local politician. None of this was young Josh’s bucket list stuff. It paid the bills and helped fuel my narcissist side while I hid my addictions, but this stuff was never part of the “dream” plan, they were just good gigs.

As you probably know if you’ve read this site in the past, my world ultimately imploded with my very public arrest for an inappropriate chat room session with a teenage girl. I lost everything I’d worked for professionally. After an intense recovery, I went to serve 6 months in jail. While there, I finally wrote a half-decent book about my addiction. That process revealed to me that I want to help people who are dealing with this issue and help educate those who know nothing and live in a world of stereotypes and assumptions.

When I got out of jail, I continued with recovery and spent the next year editing and polishing the manuscript down to a workable document. I finally found a publisher who would print it.

What’s interesting now, several months after it was officially released is that it’s popping up on the radar of libraries. They automatically get most best sellers or books from the “Big 5” publishers, but little books like mine often go unnoticed.

Thankfully, mine is starting to gain a little bit of traction in the library community. There really isn’t a book written from a male perspective using real names and real events that illustrates a descent into addiction like mine out there. Like the book or hate it, it still can be a resource unlike anything out there and I think that’s why it’s gaining traction.

Not too long ago, I walked into a library that I knew had the book. I went to the New Arrivals section and saw it sitting there, on a shelf with books by authors I recognized and books on subjects I’d want to read about.

Twelve-year-old Josh wouldn’t have believed the subject matter, nor would he have believed that he would write over 2,000 newspaper or magazine articles before his first book would come out, but he would have been psyched to see a book he wrote sitting on a library shelf.

It was a bumpy road on a route to hell and back I’d never advise anybody to take, but there it was…a dream come true.

Morgan Freeman has one of his best voiceover lines of all time at the end of The Shawshank Redemption: “Andy Dufresne crawled out through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Kennebunk

If you’d like to see a list of libraries my book is in, Click Here

If you’d like to buy the book, Click Here

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