Love Thy Anger

The author finds a use for anger. Here’s how he uses it without the evil side-effects.

Mood music for this post: “The Fight Song,” by Marilyn Manson:

On the surface, telling people to love their anger contradicts everything this blog is about. I’m always writing about my Faith journey and overcoming mental illness and addiction, which is all about finding an inner peace. So what the hell is this about anger?

In my mind, there are two types of anger: The bad kind, that leads people to addiction, killing and plain ‘ol meanness. Then there’s the anger that can be channeled into positive action.

Having lived with both kinds of anger, I know the difference.

The bad anger plunged me into years of addictive behavior and depression. It caused me to hurt friends and family.

The good anger is what kicked me in the back and made me wake up to my demons. Anger was required to fight back.

Anger over the evil mess my life had become led me to my Faith.

I think that’s why I love metal music so much. There’s a lot of anger, and people often confuse that with a love of bad behavior, selfishness and hurt.

In some cases that’s true. But then those things can be found in any musical genre.

For me, the anger in the music was a gift from God to keep my most destructive impulses at bay.

The music grabbed me like a sponge and squeezed the hate out of me.

A wise person from church one noted that it’s OK to feel anger when someone cuts you off in traffic. It’s not OK to aim your car at the person who cut you off.

There’s always that fine line, and the trick is not to cross it.

Luke Skywalker Has OCD (May The 4th Be With You, Too)

In honor of Star Wars Day, I share an observation about Luke Skywalker. The dude went through a lot in life, and I respected that. But there has always been something about him that gets on my fucking nerves.

Was it the way he wined like a baby after Darth Vader introduced himself as Luke’s Daddy?

Was it the way he utterly failed to stand up to Uncle Owen before the latter was blasted to a crisp along with Aunt Beru?

No.

Like most of the people I can’t stand, the problem is that I look at Luke and see my reflection…

The Rewards and Risk of Service: A Cautionary Tale

Service is a major tool of recovery. But it can also be dangerous.

Mood music for this post: “Serve the Servants” by Nirvana:

Last night was one of service. I drove down to Salem State College to talk to graduating seniors about their portfolios and resumes. It was the least I could do, after all that college did for my career.

It was energizing to talk to the students, who are full of hope and ambition, not yet jaded by the throat-cutting ways of corporate America. And it was good to see Judi Puritz Cook, Ellen Golub and Robert Brown. Ellen was adviser to the Salem State Log while I was there. We were among her most trouble-making, rebellious charges. I’m proud of this.

After that I dropped by the home of old friends. Their son is going through a lot of the turmoil I went through as a kid, and I’m trying to help him out by teaching him some of the tools I’ve developed for the OCD and addictive behavior.

On the way home I spent some phone time with someone I’m sponsoring in OA.

By 5 a.m. I was back online, following up with students I didn’t get a chance to sit with last night.

I treasure service to others. It’s an important part of my Faith and my recovery. It’s odd that I feel this way, since I used to prefer isolating myself in a dark room, watching TV and shoving pint after pint of ice cream, canned pasta and other junk down my throat and occasionally taking breaks to smoke cigarettes.

Service, in fact, is one of the main tools of recovery in OA. It’s not just about helping other people. It’s about building and improving relationships, putting the stresses of your life in perspective and realizing your troubles are never as bad as you think. You’re not just helping someone who is down on their luck. They are helping you back, though they don’t realize it most of the time.

Sponsorship is a good example.

By sponsoring others, it forces you to work harder at your own recovery. My sponsor helps me every day, but I also take time to hear how she’s doing and offer advice.

It’s all about realizing we’re all in this together.

But there’s some caution to deliver here.

Service is a tricky tool that can explode in your face if not used responsibly.

The risk for me is that I take on too much. I can’t say no when there’s volunteering to do at church or someone in OA needs my time. Being a control freak doesn’t help.

I also have a job that keeps me busy, and doing good work on the job — writing articles that help security professionals do their jobs better and helping out colleagues when they need it — is also essential to my well-being.

The work thing used to be about pleasing the bosses. Then I woke up one day and realized it’s stupid trying to be a people pleaser.

The point, though, is that if I do a great job of volunteering all the time, the work can suffer and then someone who deserves my best gets screwed. Fortunately, I’m a lot better at this balancing act than I used to be.

The danger with sponsorship and helping friends in need is that you as a human being can only do so much. My instinct is to drop in and make their lives better in an instant. But it doesn’t work that way. I have a busy family life with two small boys. They must always come first, which means I have to take care not to get consumed by someone else’s troubles.

I have to remember that I can offer up what I know, but at the end of the day only the folks I’m trying to help can truly pull themselves out of the hole.

With sponsorship and giving students career advice there’s another danger: By trying to help too many people, I end up not helping any of them very much.

All perils aside, it’s great to be in the mental place I’m at right now. You all deserve thanks for that, because your service has helped me. Even though you probably don’t realize you were doing anything.

Needles

Why the author has a mild obsession with needles this morning.

Mood music for this post: “The Needle and the Damage Done,” by Neil Young:

Sean had his annual physical yesterday and came home in a subdued mood after having blood drawn and a booster shot. I felt kind of bad for him, but not for long. He has it easy compared to my experience with needles. Not that I ever like to see him scared or in pain. It kills me every time.

https://i0.wp.com/www.ght.org.uk/userfiles/image/webgeneral/iStock4044509syringes-web.jpg

A lot of needles went into my arms, hands, feet and legs as a kid when I was being treated with severe Crohn’s Disease. There were weekly blood tests. There were IVs. There were three surgeries where a feeding tube was inserted through my neck and chest.

The IVs were the worst. They could never find an optimal place to leave the needle so they’d stick, stick and stick some more. The blood tests didn’t bother me. I would watch as the needle went in, while other kids would turn away and scream. I was too used to it for that.

The whole needle experience was probably a blessing in disguise.

I was born with an addictive personality and was destined to get hooked on something. I think the reason it wasn’t something like smack is because I had already had my fill of the needle. I would never be able to associate needles with feeling pleasure. The pleasure is what addicts go for.

So for me, that pleasure came from compulsive binge eating. How food became the addiction of maximum damage is easy to understand. I come from a family of comfort eaters, and I was banned from  any food or drink during my childhood hospital stays. Then I had to take Prednisone, which sends the appetite into overdrive.

I should be grateful. Injecting dope through needles is one of the most deadly addictions a person can have. It leads to relationships with a lot of dark, unsavory personalities. You end up dead or in jail, unless you’re lucky to kick it.

Those things were never really an issue with the food. If anything, my addiction made me hide from people and relationships period, which left me with little opportunity to get into trouble with the law. Besides, I was too much of a chicken for that sort of thing.

I could spin this stuff in my skull over and over again. But it doesn’t matter.

I’m in recovery, I’m grateful and I have too much to do these days to regress to the older behavior.

Or so I hope.

This is Your Brain on Restlessness

The author has hit a wall with his recovery. But it’s not what you think.

Mood music for this post: “Don’t Cry” by Guns N Roses:

I’ve moved past yesterday’s tiredness to a state of restlessness.

By brain is at war with itself. One side wants to buckle down and tackle the editing and administrative tasks on the table. The other side wants to write a few more articles first. I have leftover material from last week.

I’m also thinking a lot about my recovery. I’ve been abstinent from binge eating since October 1, 2008 and sober from alcohol since Christmas 2009. But I still can’t seem to survive without coffee and Red Bull or the occasional cigar.

The natural conclusion is that my recovery has hit a plateau.

I’m doing well for the most part. The eating habits are in check. I can now function at events without a glass of wine in my hand at all times. But I feel restless about something. I think it’s the need to take my recovery to the next level.

That means a couple things. One, I need to start sponsoring other people in the 12-Step program. I’ve been dipping my toe in the water on that one, but I’ve mostly held back, believing that it’s hard enough to take care of my own recovery without worrying about someone else’s. Two: It’s time for me to start doing what’s called a “Big-book Study.” That’s a gathering where people do the really deep study of the 12 Steps. I’ve read the steps over and over again and I try my best to live them every day. But until you’ve done the deeper study, you’re just scraping the surface.

Or so I’ve been told.

So it looks like I have two new goals for the summer.

This self-control thing is a bitch. But it beats the hell out of the alternative.

Somewhat Damaged

Sometimes the author lives in overdrive. The result is pain.

Mood music for this post: “Somewhat Damaged” by Nine Inch Nails:

Some of you might have read my post from yesterday about enjoying life in the parental and professional fast lane. Well, this morning I’m paying for it.

My back aches. My head is numb and coffee isn’t doing much about that. I got a dull knifing sensation in the gut. And I’m ready to fall asleep in my desk chair.

I want a cigar and more coffee. The coffee is fine, but I’m trying to put down the cigars.

Fortunately, I don’t want to binge and I’m not feeling depressed.

This is just physical pain, brought on by several weeks of clean but heavy living.

I have no regrets. I got a lot of work done last week AND got a lot of busy but quality time with the family.

And it used to be that depression made me feel like this. Black moods always seem to come with the back pain, migraines and gut ache.

This was especially true when I was a kid. The hidden mental illness I had at the time, with family strife and physical illness tossed in, made for some incapacitating moments.

I know a kid who’s going through something similar right now. He has some of the same mood troubles I had when I was around 10 and sometimes he goes so far off the handle that he has to be restrained. I identify with the kid.

I think he’s going to go through plenty of physical pain from his condition just like I did. But I know there’s a better, happier way, where a person can get past mental disorder and learn to function in society.

Not just function normally, but function exceptionally well.

And when the aches and pains you get start to come from living well instead of living low, you’ll know you’ve achieved something precious.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must find some Tylenol and more coffee.

Parental Overload: No Big Deal

Nothing like a week of screaming kids to realize OCD aint what it used to be.

Mood music for this post: “Mama Weer all Crazee Now” by The Runaways:

A week like the one I’ve just had would have been impossible just a couple years ago.

The kids were on school vacation, the same week as Sean’s 9th birthday and some very big security events in Boston. I did a lot of speeding back and forth between the Seaport Hotel and home for a kids’ birthday party, daycare duty, an evening trip to the N.E. Aquarium, etc.

Funny thing is, everything was fine. It was a fantastic week, actually.

Not even the house full of third graders rampaging through every room was enough to take me down. I enjoyed it.

I managed to bust out 11 articles and podcasts during the week, despite all the mayhem. It was fun. Hopefully, some security folks get something out of them.

Yesterday I mixed work with parenting and took Sean and Duncan to the Security B-Sides event in Boston. The venue was perfect for them:

Security BSides Boston by jack_a_daniel.

The security crowd seemed to enjoy their company. No one seemed to mind as Sean shoved Lego toys in their faces and gave detailed descriptions of each one. Heck, a couple of people came with more Legos for Sean, knowing he’d be there.

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, the kids are something close to famous among my business associates.

As for me: No anxiety attacks. No fear or panic about getting articles written. And no worries as to what other people think.

Nothing more to say about it, really.

Just a few words to drive home my surprise and gratitude for this turn of events.

Happy Sunday.

Newsroom Nightmare: A Sequel

Another Facebook flashback strikes the author on his dirty newsroom side of the brain.

Mood music for this post: “Mean Street” from Van Halen:

I thought I was done writing about my newsroom experiences with “The Crazy-Ass Guy in the Newsroom.” But Facebook has put me back in touch with another blast from my past, so here I go again.

Meet Steve Lambert, editor of The Eagle-Tribune a decade ago. He hired me as night editor and promoted me to assistant editor for New Hampshire.

When he left for California in 2002, I was put back on the night desk. Good thing, too. I was within inches of smashing my direct supervisor in the side of the head with a bat after his management style drove me within inches of a nervous breakdown. I would have been fired and brought up on charges for doing such a thing, but I would have been a hero among some of my newsroom colleagues.

Still, I’m glad it didn’t come to that because it would have been wrong. And the reality is that my insanity back then made me as evil a newsroom presence as the supervisor was heavy-handed and ruthless.

I always liked Steve, though. We shared a love of The Beatles and I respected his efforts to make the paper more of a voice for New Hampshire and, later, Lawrence Massachusetts’ Latino community. He took a lot of criticism for the latter, which ended in spectacular failure. It really got under the skin of a lot of bitter Hispanic haters, which is why I think I loved it.

He also did a lot to bring more humanity to the newsroom. He gave low-level people like me a shot at bigger things, and always let us put family before work. It’s hard to find that in a newsroom, though The Eagle-Tribune does deserve credit for nurturing a deep family streak. The current managing editor, Gretchen Putnam, balances a demanding job with being one of the best Moms around in a way that would make a lot of journalists envious. It’s very easy for reporters and editors to put every egg of their existence into the career basket, and that never, ever ends well.

Back to Lambert. He may not realize it — or maybe he did — but I was Grade-A nuts during the time I was in his employ.

I was all about pleasing my masters back then, before I realized being a people-pleaser is dumb. When Lambert wasn’t happy about something the NH edition had done, I kept it with me for weeks at a time. I brooded. I gave in to my addictive behavior in the nastiest fashion I could. I felt picked on.

Let me be honest: Most of my troubles back then were nobody’s fault but mine. I had a brain chemistry imbalance and bottled-up traumas that I wouldn’t become fully aware of for another couple years.

I was a major control freak, which is an OCD trademark. I had an ego much bigger than I deserved to have. That combination slammed into the wall at The Eagle-Tribune, because criticism and toughness are trademarks of the culture. That’s not always a bad thing. But in the hands of someone who takes things deeply personal, it becomes toxic.

The stress level was already high when I realized I wasn’t clicking with the New Hampshire editor. It felt like disaster was just around the corner. And it was.

I remember the newsroom on 9-11-01 like it were yesterday. The first World Trade Center tower had just collapsed on the TV screen mounted above Lambert’s office. He came out, stood on a desk and told everyone to collect themselves a minute, because this would be the most important story we ever covered.

Up to that point, it was. But I was so full of fear and anxiety that my ability to function was gone. I spent most of the next few days in the newsroom, but did nothing of importance. I was a shell. And I stayed that way until I finally left the paper in early 2004.

I thought all my emotional trouble was solved when I left that place. I so badly wanted the job to be that one thing I could point to as the root cause of my pain; the thing I could hate for life.

But my mental nightmare was only beginning.

Looking back, that period was probably the beginning of the end, a time of madness where I was close to rock-bottom and had to change, but wasn’t yet in tune to reality.

It was not a happy time. But I’m glad I worked with Lambert. He’s a good man.

MomDay Monday – School Daze

Every school has its issues.

Issues with teachers. Issues with other parents. Miscommunication. Problems with other students.

Every school.

There’s no getting around it. We’re all human. We all have failings. And a school is, after all, made up of us imperfect humans.

But at what point does a school have so many issues it becomes dysfunctional?

Is it when the faculty talks out of turn to your child about their parents’ divorce?

Or perhaps it’s when other parents refuse to accept that their child is the school bully & consistently puts the blame for their child’s behavior on the very kids he’s bullying.

Is it when there are arbitrary punishments meted out at whim? One day a behavior is punishable by making the child sit out of recess. The next day, the same behavior is overlooked. One day, uniform infractions are barely mentioned. The next day, a student loses privileges for wearing the wrong uniform piece.

Perhaps….

But I believe it’s when a school & its principal are so afraid of criticism that they close off lines of communication to keep others from hearing it.

I believe it’s when a principal is more concerned with who saw a comment on the school Facebook page than she is with addressing the issues brought to her attention.

I believe it is when a student receives retaliation for the actions of their parent.

And I believe it is when anti-bullying rallies are held for the students but parents & staff are seemingly the biggest offenders.

The Kids attend a private, Catholic school. They have been there since they were each 3 years old, starting in the youngest Pre-K group. They have known their classmates for most of their lives & we have made good friends with some of the families of these kids. When The Ex & I decided to divorce, we quietly told The Kids’ teachers so they were aware of the situation at home & on the lookout for any kind of behavioral issues that might occur because of it. This school had an opportunity to show The Kids an example of what it means to be a Christian & support my children during a particularly tough time.

They failed.

Within weeks, it seemed as if everyone knew what was happening in our family. The rumor mill was in full force until people I hardly knew & rarely spoke to had an opinion on my divorce & The Kids’ reaction to it. I had been blind to the dysfunction in the past, believing my kids were in the best possible place for the best possible education. There were two things I hoped to keep consistent throughout the divorce as the kids lives were being uprooted. Their school & their house. I was determined to keep them in that school & in the house they had been in for the past 4 years even if it meant having to ask my dad for money. But little by little, my eyes were opened & I saw that there were issues with this school far beyond anything I ever realized. There certainly have been people on the faculty as well as other parents who have been more than supportive & I can’t thank those people enough for the kindness & support they’ve shown, especially to The Kids. But they have unfortunately been too few & too far between. It is school dysfunction at its best. Or worst.

I’ve stopped my insistence that The Kids stay in that school. It’s part of my letting go. And it’s okay. I am aware that any school will have issues, dysfunction, intolerant people & parents who violate the school drop off & pick up rules. At this point, I’m willing to take my chances.

But I’m keeping the house.