OCD DIARIES 12-30: The Break

The author tries to take a break from writing, but chaos in the form of his two sons reminds him of another lesson worth sharing.

Sean and Duncan have the audacity to fight over video games at this early hour, my usual writing window.

Back before I found control over the OCD, this normal childhood behavior would send me over the edge. Fighting children equals chaos. People like me don’t do chaos well. I am, after all, someone who craves order.

The good news is that I don’t go over the edge anymore. I look up from my laptop screen, tell them to knock it off and get back to my writing. A lot of their fighting amuses me because of the zingers that spill out their mouths.

So I tell them to knock it off and, once hidden behind the computer screen, grin broadly.

I appreciate that I can enjoy these moments instead of being undone by them.

It’s a nice break.

Today will still be a day crammed with chaos. This morning I’m taking the kids to play with their cousin Madison and Uncle Dave’s vast Lego collection. This afternoon I’m babysitting the children of one of Erin’s best friends so the two of them can go have a girls’ afternoon out. It’ll be me and four kids. They’ll be wrecking a house other than mine, so I’m actually looking forward to it. Tonight Erin and I will take the boys to the N.E. Aquarium — one of their favorite places on Earth — for a members-only event.

I never thought it would be possible to feel relaxed with a day like that ahead. And yet I am relaxed, even as the coffee begins to course through me.

It’s nice to embrace life instead of trying to run from it. I’m enjoying a week off from work without worrying about all the stuff I need to do when I get back. If anything, I’m looking forward to all the things I have to do next week. By Saturday, I suspect I’ll be itching to get back to it.

The original purpose of today’s entry was to announce I’m taking a break from blogging for a couple days. It’s a forced break. I’m trying to give folks a chance to catch up with the torrent of writing I’ve done these last three weeks.

For someone with OCD, the compulsion is to keep going. To stop is to lose precious momentum.

But that was the old me. The new me is happy to take a break and enjoy the precious present.

Somewhere along the process of writing today’s entry, I got sidetracked and started going on about my kids. No apologies for that. I kinda like how this entry turned out. It’s all over the place, but it’s nice to meander once in awhile.

It sounds stupid. But it’s true.

Happy New Year, friends.

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Insanity to Recovery in 8 Songs or less

The author shares some videos that together make a bitchin’ soundtrack for those who wrestle with mental illness and addiction. The first four cover the darkness. The next four cover the light.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a devoted fan of hard rock and metal music [See How Metal Saved Me]. I’ve found that the music helps me to release whatever negative thoughts I may have at the time. And so I thought I’d share some with a little help from Youtube.

Just don’t play ’em all at once, as the space-time continuum that binds the universe together might rupture, killing us all.

1. Cheap Trick: Woke Up With A Monster.

I love this band, and since we are often the monster we awake to, it’s entirely appropriate:

2. Sixx A.M.: Girl With Golden Eyes

This entire album — a soundtrack to Nikki Sixx’s book “The Heroin Diaries,” is perfect for folks like us. I like this song because it’s the part of the story where the addict really starts to hit bottom. And as we all know, hitting bottom is the first step in recovery:

3. Nine Inch Nails: Gave Up

This song speaks to the hopelessness we often feel. And in an unrelated but interesting aside, this video was shot at the residence of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, where Tate and four others were murdered by the Manson Family in 1969 (NIN’s “Broken” and “Downward Spiral” albums were recorded in the house, which Trent Reznor converted into a studio):

4. Metallica: The Unnamed Feeling

The video is pretty self-explanatory:

5. Sixx A.M.: Life is Beautiful

As Sixx says at the end, “When you’ve lost it all, that’s when you realize that life is beautiful.”

6. The Decemberists: Sons and Daughters

I love this song because it really nails the feeling you get when the black cloud finally lifts:

7. Avett Brothers: The Battle of Love and Hate

We all struggle internally with love and hate, and this song ends with Hate realizing that maybe — just maybe — he was being an idiot. Love, meanwhile, is patient and kind throughout:

8. P.O.D.: Alive

This song was big shortly after 9-11-01. It resonated with those who were starting to come out of the shock and despair of the attacks, at least in the sense that people came to appreciate their own lives a little more than before:

OCD DIARIES: The 12 Steps of Christmas

The author reviews the 12 Steps of Recovery and takes a personal inventory. There’s really no Christmas theme here, other than that the author found the headline catchy.

I’m reconstituting my OA food plan quite nicely since the Christmas Eve scare. I’m lucky for not having slipped completely. Now I find myself thinking about the 12 steps this program is based on. It’s been a bit since I’ve reviewed them to see where I fit in, so here goes:

Step 1We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.

I have this one nailed. Hell, I wouldn’t have started going to OA meetings if I hadn’t realized I was indeed powerless over my addiction. But as I was reminded last week, this step must always be top of mind. Otherwise, you relapse before you know what hit you.

Step 2Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

This one was easy for me. I realized a few years ago that I would be nowhere unless I let Jesus into my life. Thing is, when an addict is busy being an addict, they’re too busy giving in to the Devil to listen to God. Thankfully, God’s voice is much louder as time goes on.

Step 3Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

For this, I direct you toward the post about my conversion: The Better Angels of My Nature.

Step 4Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is a tough one. I’ve definitely done a lot of soul searching about where my fault lines lie and how to be better, but I have a lot of work to do on this one. The biggest sign of progress is that I can look back on the past and see that while I was busy smoldering over people who were being jerks to me, I was busy being an even bigger jerk to someone else. [See: Bridge Rats and Schoolyard Bullies] I’ve also realized that I have a bit of an ego problem that needs work. For more on that, see The Ego OCD Built.

Step 5 Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

I’ve admitted it to God and myself, and a few other human beings. But when it comes to outlining the EXACT NATURE of my wrongs, I’m not always as honest as I need to be. But I’m working on that.

Step 6Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

I’m ready, but old habits die hard.

Step 7Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

I ask Him every day. Of course, I think God helps you see your shortcomings but you have to be the one to work on the removal part.

Step 8Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

I’m willing to make amends with some people but not others. I know for sure I have harmed others in my life and I’m truly sorry for that. Others harmed themselves. I just happened to be standing too close to the tracks when they put their hands on the third rail. Clearly, I have work to do on this one.

Step 9Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

See Step 8.

Step 10Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I’m working hard on this one every day. I thank you all for being patient.

Step 11Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

Doing this step a lot, and believe me — it helps. A lot.

Step 12Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

You could say that starting this blog was my way of working this step. I’ve also started sponsoring people in OA to help them get a grip on their compulsive eating. I’m not sure I’m all that good at it yet, but I’m definitely grateful to those who come to me looking for help. In asking me for help, they are actually helping me to be a better man. It sounds confusing, but it’s true.

OCD Diaries: Scaring the People in Your Life

The author is hearing from a lot of old friends who are shocked to read about his past. Truth is, many basket cases are good at hiding their craziness in public.

To most of my family, the stories I tell in previous posts aren’t all that surprising. They were there. My in-laws may not have known everything that was going on back in the day, but they saw my quirks.

Even at work, my quirks were easy to see. It surfaced in the form of my over-intensity on deadline; my habit of hovering over page designers; my overbearing nature toward the reporters I managed on the night shift.

But I was much better at keeping it together — on the surface, at least — around most friends back then.

Which brings me to another truth about people with mental illness and addictions: We do most of our suffering and self destructing in private. This video describes our behavior pretty well:

The last line in the clip: “I don’t get drunk in front of people, I get drunk alone,” says it all. For me, I ate alone. And I ran through my darkest, most obsessive-compulsive thinking alone. Most of the time, the two went hand in hand.

But there were times in my life where I hid it well.

As a student at North Shore Community College and later at Salem State College, I was really coming into my own in terms of my look and attitude. I played up the long-hair and metal image, stayed thin through bouts of starvation and read a lot of books so I could talk about them and appear smart.

That’s not to say I was walking around with fake skin. I was who I was at the time. In many ways I’m still the same guy. It’s just that I waited till the door to my room was closed and locked before I let the Devil out.

Despite what I’ve written about being the crazy-ass guy in the newsroom, I’ve been pretty good a lot of the time at putting on a calm, cool face, especially in more recent years. As I was diving deeper and deeper into the food addiction to dull the unpleasantness of going through therapy, I was being prolific as hell at work, writing a ton of breaking news and doing so with a smile.

At one point, a boss at the time marveled that I was so relaxed and zen-like for a guy who had just spent 12 hours covering a big news event. I laughed hard at that. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but zen-like was a new one.

On the drive home that day, I ordered $35 worth of junk in a nearby fast-food drive-thru and downed the contents of the four bags by the time I got home.

I was also pretty good at hiding my depression. Part of that is because my brand of depression has never been the suicidal variety that essentially makes the sufferer close down. Mine was more of a brooding depression in which I internalized my feelings and withdrew as often as I could. But on the job, I pushed all those feelings into the proper compartment and went on with life.

There’s light at the end of this tale. The therapy, medication, Spiritual awakening and loss of fear have gone far in making me the calm, zen-like guy on the inside as well as outside. I still carry the restlessness of OCD, but I manage it all better and don’t let the condition get in the way of the precious present nearly as much as before.

To those who knew me in the late 1980s and early 1990s: Don’t worry. I’m basically the same guy you knew back then.

The difference is that the man inside has gotten a lot better at being the man on the surface.

OCD Diaries 12-27: Edge of a Relapse

The author comes dangerously close to a relapse, but lives to fight another day.

Mood music for this entry: “Accidents Can Happen,” by Sixx A.M.:

It was bound to happen sooner or later. That moment where the addiction would come calling again. [Instead of retreading my history of addiction here, I’ll point you toward the entry that gets into it all: A Most Uncool Addiction.]

I put down the flour and sugar — my whiskey and/or crack — on Oct. 1, 2008 and dropped 65 pounds on the spot. Thursday night was the first time since then that the food came calling.

Here’s how it works:

You’re going about your business and all seems well, then maybe you spot some food on the table that you USED to binge on. You walk away, but the vision of the food sticks in your mind like the edge of a knife. You walk back toward the food without actually realizing you’re doing it. Before you have time to process what’s happening in your thoughts, the food is in the mouth.

The good news is that I didn’t touch the flour or sugar in the end. My abstinence from those ingredients remains intact. But the other part of my program, where almost everything I eat goes on a little scale, faltered. Not terribly. But enough for me to stop and realize I was in the perfect position for a full-blown relapse.

My first brush with potential relapse is unsettling, to say the least. When you work so hard to get to a certain point and come close to throwing it away, it’s downright scary.

This morning I’m feeling the bloat. I’m sure it’s because my dinner didn’t go on the scale as it should have. I was at a restaurant, celebrating my step-mom’s birthday. I ordered the right things, but didn’t pay enough attention to how much was on the plate.

I awoke to the realization that I need to reign it in and double down on the usual discipline.

The good news is that, unlike previous times where I would lose my way with the food, I’m not walking around in a depressed fog. My mind is pretty clear right now. I know what I have to do.

That is an important sign in my evolution. I may still screw up on occasion, but instead of descending into weeks and months of binge eating, I’m poised for a quick rebound.

That’s real progress.

I’m also awakened to the fact that all addicts are at risk for a sudden relapse. You can be right as rain, and then you’re falling down before you can even process what’s happening.

The reason I include that Sixx A.M. video above is because it speaks so clearly on the problem at hand. Nikki Sixx fought heroin and other addictions for many years. He has gone from stone-cold sober to full-blown relapse and knows how it can potentially break a person for good.

The point of the song is that, as the title says, accidents can happen. The part of the song that really cuts to the core is this chorus:

And you know that accidents can happen
And it’s okay,
We all fall off the wagon sometimes
It’s not your whole life
It’s only one day
You haven’t thrown everything away.

The reason those lines are so powerful is that as addicts, we truly believe we’ve thrown it all away when we screw up. There’s the feeling that to fall off the wagon is to undo weeks, months or years of progress; to be right back to square one, as if the program of recovery never happened.

I’ve been there before. Not this time.

In one sense, I’m lucky because I didn’t lapse back into the ingredients and binge behavior of years past. Maybe that makes it easier for me to regain my footing.

But I also think I’m lucky because I’ve experienced some true growth, the kind where setbacks make you stronger instead of undoing you.

So for today, I’m thanking God that I had a fender bender and not a head-on crash. I’m tightening the eating today, not tomorrow or New Year’s Day. The fix starts now.

And since I’m in between OA sponsors, I’m going to stop dragging my heels and get a new one. It’s critical to have someone to kick you in the ass in times like these.

Break time is over.

To be able to get back up and move on, for me, is so absolutely huge.

I Thank God for that.

I’ll end by pointing you toward another song that sums up my closing lines here– “Broken, Beat and Scarred” by Metallica:

Fear Factor

In this installment, the author describes years of living in a cell built by fear, how he broke free and why there’s no turning back.

Soundtrack for this entry: “Sons and Daughters,” by The Decemberists:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This morning I led a meeting of Over-eaters Anonymous, a task that included standing before a room of people for 30 minutes to tell my story of OCD, addiction and recovery.

It was my third time “qualifying” at an OA meeting this past year. Meanwhile, I did a fair amount of public speaking for my day job as senior editor of CSO Magazine. I sat on panels at security conferences and did solo presentations in front of various information security groups around the country.

Five or so years ago, the notion of me getting up to speak in front of people would have been laughable.

I was too busy hiding in my cage of fear to do such things. Fear will rob you blind, forcing you to avoid life and retreat into the sinister world of addiction.

Breaking free of it was a gift from God. But it took a long time to figure out how to unwrap it and realize my potential.

For me, fear was one of the many byproducts of OCD, something that went hand in hand with anxiety. It kept me away from parties. It scared me out of traveling. I turned down a lot of living in favor of lying in my bedroom watching TV. There are a couple examples in particular that I’m not proud of.

1991

One summer night I was hanging with two friends in front of Kelly’s Roast Beef, a popular eatery on Revere Beach. As we started walking the mile back to my house, we noticed we were being followed by some 15 punks. It was clear they were looking for trouble. I panicked and ran to a nearby bar. As I looked back, I couldn’t see my friends.

The punks had circled them and started kicking and punching their guts in. I called the police and the beatings ended quickly, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I ran away. Worse, it marked the end of my walking along the beach at night for many years to come.

It was a huge fear-inflicted injustice. I grew up on that beach and loved the place. I walked its entire length daily. It gave me peace and clarity. And I allowed some punks to scare me away.

2001

A week after the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington, Erin and I were scheduled to fly to Arizona to attend a cousin’s wedding. The night before were were supposed to leave, I gave in to my terror at the prospect of getting on a plane and we didn’t go. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life.

There are smaller examples in between and in the years after, but those are two of the more vivid memories.

Fear also fueled the binge eating and kept me from standing up for things that were right in the family and workplace. It was better to keep my trap shut, I thought. To do otherwise would put my job in danger or have me blackballed.

Then there was the fear of loss I wrote about a few blog posts back — fear that if I didn’t overprotect my kids I might lose them to some imagined beast; that if I spoke my mind during a spousal spat my wife might walk out on me. In hindsight, these were foolish ideas. But in the grip of fear, you think this way and act on it even though you really know better.

When I began getting treatment for the OCD the fear actually accelerated for a while. If a toe went a little numb I’d think I was suffering from a blood clot. A headache would leave me wondering if a tumor was growing inside my skull. A pain in the chest became fear of a heart attack.

I can’t remember when the fear finally began to lift. I think it was in early 2007, shortly after I began taking Prozac. Once the medicine untangled the chemical imbalances in the brain, situations I had feared suddenly seemed manageable. It was pretty weird, actually. I didn’t know what to do with this new feeling. Or maybe it was the year before, when I converted to the Catholic Faith and increasingly let God into my life. When you have God on your side, there’s really nothing to fear, right?

Then little milestones came along. There was a business trip to California that would have consumed me with worry a few years before. There was the first time giving a presentation in front of a room full of security people who were almost certainly smarter than me. The computer holding my PowerPoint presentation went on the fritz and I was forced to present sans slides. I told the audience that I was just going to wing it and that broke the ice.

Today, I look for opportunities to give talks in front of crowded rooms. I have work to do on my speaking skills, but I want more. The more I do, the more my confidence grows and the smoother and more organized the presentations get.

I look for opportunities to fly as well. And though I work hard on the business at hand, I ALWAYS make a point of building in a day to go out and explore, especially if there’s a piece of history to see up close. I want to see it all. Staring at the hotel room TV will no longer do.

Sometimes I worry that the fear will return and I’ll again retreat to my old cage. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though, for one simple reason — the world has been opened up to me. I’ve experienced too much joy these last couple years to go back to the way I was.

I couldn’t go back if I tried. Not that I would want to try.

To be clear, I still worry about things. But I don’t let it shut down the rest of my life. Instead of being engulfed, I can put the concern in its proper mental compartment and move along with my life.

There will be difficulties ahead, I’m sure. That’s life. But I feel more ready to deal with what may come than I’ve ever been before.

The Ego OCD Built

The author admits to having an ego that sometimes swells beyond acceptable levels and that OCD is fuel for the fire. Go ahead. Laugh at him.

Mood music:

Last night I got on here to explain that sometimes OCD is good for me, in the sense that it provides fuel for my professional ambitions. Some might look at the post and think I was letting vanity take over.

Truth is, I was.And I do it often.

I’m the first to admit that humility isn’t one of my strong suits. I’m working on it, because as a Christian that’s what I need to do. I’ve always been a better talker than listener. I’m going to work on that or die trying.

Before I get too serious about it, it’s worth noting that a lot of OCD types have big egos. Achieving big things is one of the ways we try to fill in that hole that’s always dogging us.  In my profession, getting access to the major power players of information security is a rush. I feel like I am somebody as a result. When I don’t make it to a big security conference, the wheels in my head start spinning. I start to worry that by not being there, I become irrelevant.

When I make it someplace and score, like the time I was able to corner Bob Woodward of Washington Post/Watergate fame at a conference in Florida four years ago, I can be insufferable for months. In that encounter, Woodward was there to deliver a keynote on the state of security. His forte was the larger war on terror and how the Bush White House was waging it. He needed to bone up on the IT aspect and started asking me about antivirus and firewalls, and whether those things really work. Later, during the Q&A part of his keynote, when someone asked him a cybersecurity question, he mentioned that he had talked to a fellow earlier (me) who mentioned that the emerging trend was toward a quiet, sneaky brand of attack. My ego boiled and rose. I was sure to tell EVERYBODY about it.

Today, when I write what I think is a good article, I promote it nonstop. That’s part of my job, of course. If you don’t promote it no one will read it. But I do it with an uber-sized dose of zeal.

Work has always been an OCD trigger for me. The good news is that a lot of my hyperactivity today is driven by joy than fear. A decade ago it was all about fear of not being the golden boy. With the fear gone, I find that sometimes it’s impossible to slow down. Ego is always a presence. The more prolific I am, the more attention I get.

I’m not particularly proud of it, but I do think it’s fair game to laugh at me over it. It’s dangerous for anyone to take themselves too seriously. I don’t in a lot of ways, but I always have to keep an eye out for moments when I do. When others see me taking myself to seriously, I want them to take me down a few pegs.

Fortunately, I have people in my life who do just that. My wife, for example.

My faith is making me more humble, as is my recovery program for the binge eating. But it’s a slow process.

My kids are helping me. They don’t care about the big career milestones. They just want my attention. They want me to read to them and give them a snuggle before bed. They want me to listen to their own milestones. Nothing beats parenthood in forcing me to understand that it’s not all about me.

I’m trying to improve in other ways. I go to Confession regularly because I feel the need to put my ego before the priest and seek forgiveness, which I always receive.

I try more and more to put my ego-driven energy into serving others, whether it’s through my recovery program or other acts of basic decency. It helps. A lot.

This is a journey and I always try to remember that.

All that said, I’ll still admit that getting that story last night felt pretty damn good. Try not to hate me for it. I’ll try not to hate myself.

Do feel free to laugh at me, though. Ego-laden people are amusing to watch.