Pouring Gas on the Fire

People in recovery often go into hyper mode, making up for time wasted in the grip of addiction. Mix in some OCD and here’s what happens…

Mood music for this post: “Gasoline” by Audioslave:

I was talking to a dear friend this morning about the radio show I was pushing in my last post, SixxSense, and how the show’s host, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, has been a hurricane of activity since he became sober. I noted how he has a clothing line, two bands (Motley and Sixx A.M.) and a best-selling book to his credit. Oh yeah, there’s also his charity for runaways.

“Sounds a lot like your life,” the friend said. Not that what I’m doing is anywhere near as huge as what the Sixx machine has going on. But, the point was, I have a lot of irons in the fire. All the time.

Someone else asked me recently how I can write something new in this blog every day and still maintain the fast pace of writing and reporting on the security side, not to mention all the family responsibilities. And the book I’m starting to write. And the active participation in my church and 12-Step Program.


The answer is simple, and pretty much the same as it is for a lot of people who have found recovery. I’m making up for lost time; years I wasted in the haze of depression and binge eating.

But the extra drive is also fueled by an energy people like us discover once the haze lifts. Things that used to inspire dread and cause exhaustion become much, much easier to do. And so you want to do more. It’s almost a new addiction in itself.

But for me there’s a twist: My addictive behavior was a byproduct of OCD out of control. Now that I seem to have the upper hand over addiction, the OCD itself has changed in some ways.

One reason for that is all the therapy and finally the medication it took to get my head screwed on right. The OCD moments went from being triggered by fear and anxiety to other, more welcome things: Mainly a renewed interest in all the life I had run away from in the past.

The work doesn’t feel like work. I’m lucky to be doing things I love. So I try to do more. The different outlook toward work, in turn, makes it easier for me to show up for my wife, kids, church and more.

Some of this may sound confusing and even a little jarring. It is.

But this is still a fairly new experience for me, and I haven’t found all the boundaries yet. When I do, there will no doubt be some growing pains. But that’s as it should be.

I trust my family and friends to confront me when I’ve gone too far and damaged my health or relationships.

Above all, I trust God to guide me along the right path.


Let it burn.

Now This Takes Me back

By now, the reader knows I have a passion for heavy metal music, including Motley Crue and Ozzy. Today I stumbled upon an interview that I simply must share.

Nikki Sixx, bassist for Motley Crue and author of The Heroin Diaries, has a new radio show called SixxSense, and one of his first interviews is with none other than Ozzy himself.

They talk about their struggles with addiction and have some laughs about the 1984 Ozzy-Crue tour that essentially launched the latter band into the stratosphere. That was around the time I started to listen to heavy metal. The self-destructive lifestyle they embodied was attractive to a kid with a giant chip on his shoulder and anger to spare.

This picture from that tour pretty much sums up the behavior I thought was cool at the time:

d54af18b.jpg Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne image by rolltider17

I spent my teenage years trying to copy that behavior — not very effectively, which is probably for the best. Developing a compulsive eating disorder probably enhanced my chances of survival than if I’d started using what these rock stars were using.

So I come across this interview with two men who have been through things that would have killed the less durable among us, and it’s just another reminder to me that we are all works in progress. We change, hopefully for the better. I think these guys definitely changed for the better. I’d like to think that I have as well.

Click HERE and enjoy.

The Flood

The author on how the deluge Massachusetts is experiencing is as brutal on the mind as it is on basements.

Mood music for this post: “Rain When I Die” by Alice in Chains:

This isn’t a new topic for me, since I’ve mentioned it many times. But New England is currently getting pounded by another deluge, so it’s worth repeating.

This weather is brutal for people who suffer from depression. The dark-gray sky leaves the sufferer feeling as though they’re locked in a tomb.

Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from severe depression his whole life, was driven to the brink of suicide more than once in the 1840s — two decades before he was president — during periods of prolonged, intense rain, according to Lincoln’s Melancholyby Joshua Wolf Shenk.

It’s especially rough on children who suffer from anxiety. Just hearing the weatherman say the word flooding is enough to cause panic.

I tend to experience dark moods during heavy rains, but I think the short daylight of winter hits me harder. Fortunately, an adjustment of my Prozac intake has helped considerably.

Not much more to add here that I haven’t already said before, except that if you know someone who suffers from depression and addiction, show them some friendship and keep an eye out for them.

Peace at the Scene of the Crime

The author visits an old thinking spot behind a boat yard in his old neighborhood and finds something he forgot about.

Mood music for this post:  Mother Love Bone, “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns”

With Erin working yesterday afternoon, I put the kids in the car and drove to Revere to visit Dad and Dianne. It was truly an afternoon of flashbacks, which could be seen as a bad thing. But it was an absolutely sublime experience for many reasons.

First, it’s a true gift that I can go down to a city that is essentially the scene of the crime for many of my early traumas and enjoy the company of these parents. I’ve written about Dad and what I’ve learned from him, but Dianne deserves mention here because we fought each other hard when I was growing up. This is more because of me than her, because she had the misfortune of joining the family right as I was hitting my malcontented, conflicted and rebellious teenage years.

She was really at a disadvantage. My brother died only a few months after she appeared on the scene, and she was home the night he had that final asthma attack. She plunged the adrenaline needle in him while waiting for the ambulance because that’s what you were supposed to do in the event of these attacks. But his number was up, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

She was also there a couple months before, in October 1983, when Michael had a similar attack that almost killed him that night. The doctors didn’t think he was going to make it that night, but he bounced back from the brink just in time, just like I bounced back from the brink more than once when the Croh’s Disease was attacking me so bad that the doctors were ready to pull out the colon and throw it in the trash.

I guess I was just a little luckier than he was.

Anyway, me and Dianne were always in conflict. I thought she was in the marriage with my Dad for his business success. I fought constantly with the step-sister she gave me. I was jealous of the step-brother she gave me because he was suddenly the cute youngest kid. Before my parents divorced it was Michael, Wendi and me, the youngest. Being sick, I was also spoiled rotten. Then the step-siblings came along and Michael died, making me the oldest son, a title that carried a lot of pressure.

I blamed it all on Dianne.

Of course, she also gave me a beautiful half sister in late 1985 who came along at just the right time, bringing joy to the family I never thought we’d see again.

Fast-forward to 2010.

I’ve learned a lot over the years. One is that I was the asshole most of the time back then. I was looking for people to blame for my pain and she was too good a target to pass up. She has stuck by my father through all kinds of illness and turmoil. She loves him deeply, and worries about him constantly.

Unfortunately I don’t see the step-siblings — Stacey and Brian — nearly as much as I should. Brian is one of the funniest people I know, with one of the sunniest dispositions I’ve ever seen. Stacey has a great husband, two beautiful children of her own and has stuck by her mother through thick and thin, when idiots like me were too busy with other things.

Then there’s Shira, my half-sister. Now in her mid-twenties and spending all her time in far-away places helping others. She’s in Mexico right now. She teaches and she LIVES. I don’t think she’s afraid of anything. She reminds me of me at that age with some very notable exceptions — she doesn’t carry around the fear, anxiety or the chip on the shoulder that I had at that age. She reminds me of the life I denied myself all those years ago.

Wendi deserves special mention here as well. I don’t write about her much for the sake of her own privacy, but this much I can say: She lived all the trauma I lived in Revere, through her own perspective, mind you, but she suffered mightily and, like me, has lived to tell about it.

So here we are in 2010. Me and the kids kicked back in their grandparents’ condo, building pillow forts and making a general mess. To show how at ease my father can be, during one visit last summer we came in to find a giant high-powered water rifle on the kitchen counter, which Duncan immediately grabbed and fired — in the direction of Dad’s medicine stockpile. He was unfazed. In fact, I think he was amused. He enjoys the kids’ antics.

A couple hours into yesterday’s visit, Dad got into my car with me, Sean and Duncan and we took a little drive down memory lane. We stopped at the old house at 22 Lynnway, which has seen better days. The current owners ripped out the bushes surrounding the concrete patio that held a large storage room beneath. When I occupied the basement, that storage area is where I went to sneak cigarettes and pile up empty beer bottles from the last party. I’d love to get a look in there today and see if any wreckage from my previous life is still there.

From there we went to Gibson Park, where all us kids hung out. While the kids played on the playground equipment and my father watched, I took a little walk to a spot at the water’s edge where I used to go off alone and think. I would always go there when I was particularly depressed and needed to sort things out. The spot hasn’t changed much:

One thing was notably different, though. This time, I was standing there in a state of peace rather than trouble.

On the way back to Haverhill we passed the new Paul Revere School being built on the site of the old Paul Revere School. I went to junior high there. Those were among the unhappiest times of my life, so there’s a certain satisfaction in seeing a new building rise from the rubble of the old.

Yet another symbol of how time heals all wounds if you’re willing to take the steps to make it happen.

Pissing on God

The author gets a description of sin he’ll never forget.

Before some of you get all over me about the headline, I should point out that I got it from a priest. He didn’t use the word piss, mind you, but he gave a talk on sin and redemption that involved copious amounts of urine.

Original Sin?

I’ll leave the priest’s name out, though I’ll tell you it wasn’t one of the priests from my home church, or any priest from Massachusetts.

The priest told the story of visiting one of his friends, a farmer. They were in the field helping out a cow who was giving birth. The calf born, the priest asked his farmer friend what was next.

“We gotta get the calf into the barn,” said the farmer, who then insisted the priest pick up the calf and drape it over his shoulders, then carry it to the barn.

On the way, the calf demonstrated its displeasure by urinating all over the priest, who was in a white T-shirt now stained bright yellow.

Later, the priest was in the bath, finding it very difficult to get the calf pee off of him. Then, the priest said he heard God talking to him, revealing a lesson in the mess.

Thanking God for letting the calf pee all over him, the priest protested the sorry state of affairs. According to the priest, God shot back, “That’s what you do to me every day.”

In other words, every time any of us sins against God, it’s like we’re pissing all over him.

Strong imagery. Crude, but it hits home. It resonates with the language I acquired growing up in Revere. The kids were in the car and thought it was all pretty funny. They’re at the age where pee on someone’s shirt is funny.

It also drives home how many times I’ve made a mess of God’s robes through all the sin I’ve committed in my life, especially the stuff I did while under the influence of depression, OCD and addiction.

The haze of OCD and the related addictions exhausted the mind and body and incapacitated me for days and weeks at a time. I was useless to my wife and children. I let friendships suffer because getting the binge and then collapsing under the weight of it was more appealing than being a good friend.

I became a nightmare for co-workers, especially during The Eagle-Tribune days, hovering over page editors and treating reporters more like a disease than the wonderful, talented and hard-working souls they were.

I lied to a lot of people about a lot of things and had the audacity to think I was above others, no matter how screwed up I was.

I’ve asked for and gotten a lot of forgiveness along the way, but for those of you out there who suffered in my wake over the years, I’ll say here that I’m sorry and ask you too for forgiveness.

Above all, though, I say a heartfelt sorry to The Man Upstairs.

I need to try a lot harder to get the sin out of my life. But I know I’ve probably got a lot of pissing left to do.

Not because I want to.

But because I can’t help myself.

Sober and abstinent or not, we addicts have a natural-born tendency to let things get between us and our Higher Power.

Redemption is a lifelong journey.

I hope I get it right.

Saturday Morning Rituals

Me and the kids have a tradition Sean calls Saturday Morning Ritual.

Sean and Duncan yank me from my nice warm bed at 6 a.m. or earlier and we go downstairs to the living room for computer games, TV or Legos — sometimes all at once.

I basically just sit in my chair by the window, drinking my coffee and watching whatever the kids are up to. I also repeatedly bark at them to keep their voices down, because waking Mom up before she’s ready on a weekend is simply not advisable.

It shouldn’t surprise you that I cherish this ritual.

I also pull up the iTunes library and start waking up to whatever music is on my mind. So guess what? I’m adding something to the Saturday Morning Ritual. I’m going to share some music.

As I’ve written before, one of my most important tools for coping with and managing OCD and the resulting addictions is music — the loud, metallic kind. As an angry kid going through a lot of trouble in the 1980s, Motley Crue was one of the bands I listened to most. The anger in the lyrics fit me. In adulthood, I’ve also become a fan of Sixx A.M., the side band Nikki Sixx put together to make the soundtrack for “The Heroin Diaries.”

I was lucky enough to stumble over a string of live performances from both bands this week, and simply must share it with you. My favorite thing about these is Mick Mars, one of the most underrated guitarists ever. The guy has a bone disease that forces him to stand in the same place for the whole performance. He’s been through the wringer. And WATCHING him play is simply awe-inspiring. So let’s begin …

Primal Scream

Looks That Kill

Same ‘ol Situation

Saints of Los Angeles

Wild Side

Home Sweet Home

Sixx A.M.: Pray for Me

Life is Beautiful

Life is indeed beautiful. Enjoy.

The Bright Side of Exhaustion

Mood music for this post: “So Tired,” by The Beatles:

I don’t particularly enjoy lying around. To be idle is to not be living.

Even back when I was holing myself up in a dark room or dragging my mentally exhausted ass to the couch for hours at a time, I didn’t really like it. But back then I was pinned to the wall by depression and his partners in crime: fear and anxiety. I didn’t have much of a choice, because those punks were stronger than me.

The fear and anxiety went away a long time ago, so now I really despise being idle. But that’s what I did this morning. I told my editor I was down for the count, took the kids to school, then came back here and collapsed for three hours. I think I even plunged into some REM sleep, which is almost unheard of for me in daylight.

But I needed to force myself down. The migraine I wrote about yesterday was likely the body crying for help because I’ve been pushing it hard in recent weeks.

I’m plowing through a lot of write-ups for CSO because there’s so much good material to work with of late. It’s Lent, so I’m doing a lot of extra activity at Church, including Tuesday nights helping out with the RCIA group. I’ve started my security book project, even though no publishing deal is on the table yet. I’m making plans for another trip to California, and I went into Cambridge with migraine aftershocks rattling around in my skull so I could give a keynote talk on social networking security threats at MIT. That was a ton of fun, by the way. Talks always go well when you have a lively, curious audience to work with.

That’s a lot, but I love it all too much to put something down.

When you’ve been mentally and spiritually dead and you’re lucky enough to come back to life, you develop a habit of cramming as much life as possible into every day. The things that were once cause for fear become cherished activities.

The bright side of exhaustion is that when I’m stuck on the couch I can think about how life used to be and truly appreciate where I’m at. And the exhaustion itself is kind of nice. Because it comes from being able to do a lot of cool things.

It’s a more satisfying form of fatigue.

That said, I’ll be happy when my energy comes back.

Maybe a switch in mood music will help. And if it doesn’t restore some energy, I can at least enjoy the chuckle that always comes from hearing Vince Neil sing live:

The Migraine

Every time the author gets a migraine, he’s reminded of how every day used to be.

Mood music for this post: “Check My Brain,” by Alice in Chains:

Yesterday I came home from work with a slight headache. It was a hectic day, so I chalked it up to coming down from the whirlwind.

As I made the kids’ lunches for the next school day and cooked supper, it got worse. By the time I settled in to play a game of Battleship with Sean, it was a migraine.

I spent the next nine hours in bed. The ice pack was useless. I felt like throwing up. Finally, I drifted off to sleep and that ended it. I woke up at 4:30 a.m., a half hour later than usual, and the head still hurt, though not at migraine levels.

As I write this, my ears feel clogged but I’m otherwise fine.

Funny thing about migraines. They create black holes in your life and you lose out on precious moments, like playing a game of Battleship with the kids. Sean was winning big-time at the point I had to break away. He had sunk three of my ships and I sunk only one of his. Duncan took over for me when I went to bed, and I’m not sure who prevailed in the end. I am sure Sean wouldn’t have done as well if his Dad wasn’t distracted by pain.

I also missed my Wednesday-night Arise group, which really pissed me off. I get so much from that group, and to miss out is to miss out big-time.

I used to get migraines all the time as a child. The Prednisone I took for Crohn’s Disease would give me the kind of brain pain that sent me to the bathroom throwing up. Entire evenings were shot to hell, often multiple times a week. School work suffered. It was almost as bad as the Chrohn’s Disease itself. Well, not quite as bad, but pretty bad.

I don’t get them anywhere near as much today, but I probably get a good one every other month. Every time I do, it takes me back to what life was like before I found Faith and Recovery.

All the nights I spent alone in my basement, and then on the couch because I was too mentally spent to do anything else — I find myself back there.

Those too were black hole moments. Life was put on hold and I missed out on many, many things.

I’ll tell you one good thing about the migraines I get today: They remind me that there’s no turning back on the life I’ve since built. When I wake up and the pain is gone, it’s one of the best feelings on Earth.

Today I’ll take Erin’s advice and call the doctor for a medicine I can take when a Migraine is coming on.

Erin has had more than her fair share of migraines over the years, but she found a medication that helps. I should listen to her more often.

Today I’ll make up for lost time by enjoying a security event at MIT. I give the keynote talk on social networking security threats later. Should be fun.

Health Care Reform Won’t Bring You Sanity

The author sifts through the noise from left and right wingers over Health Care Reform and comes away with something both sides SHOULD agree on. But they probably won’t.

Mood music for this post: “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by The Avett Brothers.

When President Obama signed Health Care Reform into law yesterday, some of my liberal friends  on Facebook hailed it as the Second Coming. My conservative friends cried treason.

One conservative co-worker posted from in front of the U.S. Capitol that he could still smell the stench pouring from the building.

If anyone out there is wondering what the law may or may not do for those suffering from mental illness and addiction, I have an opinion. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the fine print of the law.

All I’ll say about the law itself is that it’s not what either side thinks it is. It’ll probably do some good and cause unintended problems. That’s how it is with every law.

Is this the end of bad behavior from insurance companies?

To think so is to be naive.

Is this going to destroy everything families have spent their lives working for because of the cost, as one of my relatives suggested?

Probably not.

Those who know me will tell you I have a passion for history. It’s almost always the topic of whatever book I’m reading or documentary I’m watching. So you’d think I would have a lot to say about how this may compare to other watershed moments in legislative history and, in the end, what the consequences are for those suffering with the mental disorder I’ve lived with.

But I don’t. That’s because my own struggles have revealed a simple lesson:

Nothing the government does or does not do can help those who are out of their minds and slowly killing themselves with addictive behavior.

Government funding for more addiction treatment centers? All well and good, but if you’re locked in your crazy head you’re not going to go to one.

Making it illegal for insurers to deny coverage to someone with pre-existing conditions, including mental illness? Sounds great. But someone bent on self destruction isn’t going to be going to the doctor.  They’ll go to the emergency room when the chest pains and paranoia become too much or they’ve overdosed on something.

When it comes to this kind of affliction, I’m reminded of a line from the Avett Brother’s song “Head Full of Doubt/Life Full of Promise,” which I’ve embedded above —

When nothing is owed, deserved or expected

And you’re life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected

If your loved by someone you’re never rejected.

Decide what to be and go be it.

In the final analysis, government can’t help the sufferer. Only the sufferer can, once he or she hits bottom and decides they’ll  do anything to get well. When that feeling hits, there nothing a law can do to stop it.

Anyone who finds recovery does so because they are loved. Family, friends, fellow sufferers and ultimately God help them through the ups and downs. That support system and willingness of the sufferer to do what’s necessary is far more powerful than anything that will ever result from Health Care Reform.

Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of medical conditions where treatment WILL be affected by this law.

But mental illness and addiction are different animals from something like heart disease or kidney failure. If you give me a brain scan my OCD isn’t like a growing tumor that’s plain to see. You’ll just see a typical-looking brain.

It’s more like a ghost that occasionally shows itself in a haunted house before vanishing from mortal eyes.

The government can’t go in and flush out the ghost with a warrant or a SWAT team.

My own mental disease was too embedded and personal for outsiders to touch.

Things only got better when I woke up one morning and decided to make a change.

It may sound outrageous to some of you. But it’s my truth.

Don’t Go Away Mad

The author on why he wouldn’t change his past, no matter how bad some of it was.

Mood music:

Last night I led a meeting of Overeater’s Anonymous (OA), which is a 12-Step program for compulsive binge eaters, much like AA is such for alcoholics.

During these meetings, the leader tells his or her story for about 15 minutes. The first five cover the speaker’s ugly path to addiction, the second five focuses on the point we hit bottom and entered the program, and the final five are about how our lives are today in recovery.

So I delved into the stormy past: The older brother dying, the best friend killing himself, the childhood disease and the depression and addiction that resulted. And, of course, the underlying OCD.

At the end of the meeting, someone expressed shock over all the troubles I’ve been through. “It’s just been one tragedy after another,” the person said.

True, I’ve been around the block too many times to count. But a tragic life? I don’t think so.

For one thing, it’s easy to feel punched in the face by the gravity of these experiences I’ve shared because it’s all concentrated into one intense place, whether it’s reading all the back entries in this blog in one sitting or hearing me talk about it for five minutes of a 15-minute talk. Inevitably, it’s going to come off to the observer as a horror movie.

In truth, while I have been through the meat grinder, there have been many years of peace, joy happiness in between all the bad. All these events are stretched out over the nearly 40 years I’ve been around. If you were to sit and watch even a three-hour replay of events, you’d find it a lot more boring.

To understand this, just think about your own life. You’ve no doubt experienced sickness and death, family dysfunction and career ups and downs.

If you haven’t, you will.

In between the rough patches, I fell in love with and married the best gal on Earth, had two precious children who keep me laughing and loving, I’ve enjoyed a lot of success in my career, traveled to a lot of cool places and found God.

That stuff doesn’t suck.

Then there’s the joy I feel every day in recovery. All the great friends I have, doing a job I love and having the OCD under control.

Would I want to go through the bad stuff again? Of course not. But the weird truth is that I’m not sure I’d change the past, either. It’s easy for someone to wish they had a lost loved one back in their life and that they were less touched by illness.

But without having gone through these things, would I be where I’m at today?

I really don’t see how.

So when you read about some of the tougher things in this blog, don’t worry about me and don’t feel bad. I’m no different from most people in what I’ve been through, and it’s all good.