A Year in the Life

This isn’t a post about New Years resolutions. I don’t need a holiday to make changes in my life. IT IS about lessons I’ve learned in an effort to make resolutions.

Mood music:

There’s been plenty of unpleasant stuff this year. I’ve watched two marriages fall apart. We had a couple months where money was painfully tight. My recovery has never been easy. But that’s life.

A big fistful of goodness slammed down on me, too. Me, Erin and the kids took two drives to the DC area and back. During the first trip we got a private tour of the White House West Wing, seeing the Oval Office, Rose Garden and press briefing room. I got to meet up with good friends in San Francisco, Toronto, New York and Chicago, among other places. My recovery was tested daily, but I held it together.

Making New Year’s resolutions used to be a compulsive activity for me. I was always so desperate for something better that I fiendishly and feverishly made lists of what I would do in the coming year:

–Stop binge eating

–Stop worrying about what other people think of me

Stop trying to please everyone

–Stop letting my mind spin with worry

–Face down my fears

I used to go crazy about all that stuff, all to no avail.

By the end of the first week of a new year, these resolutions were cast aside. The eating resolution went first, then the bit about worrying about what others think.

Thing is, I eventually tackled everything on the list. But it was a much longer process than the instant-reset fixes we have a habit of pursuing at the start of every new year.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no reset button. The journey begins when you’re born and ends when you die. Case closed.

In that spirit, I promise to KEEP AT the following:

–I will keep drinking coffee and savoring the occasional cigar. I put down the food and have sworn off alcohol. We all have a collection of addictions, and my approach is to hold firm against those that cause me the most dysfunction. Coffee suits me just fine, and the cigars are infrequent.

–I will keep listening to metal music, because it keeps me sane.

–I will keep enjoying a good humorous tale, especially the off-colored variety. 

– I will keep up and increase the devotion to my wife and children. In doing so, I will keep up and increase my devotion to my Faith.

– I will keep feeding my appetite for history and learning from the hardships of those who came before me.

–I will write a TON of articles in the world of cybersecurity because it’s what I do and what I love.

–I will keep trying to be a better friend and colleague, regardless of the date on a calendar.

–I will keep working the 12 Steps, because it is essential to my well-being.

– And I will keep writing this blog, because it’s good for me and many of you have told me it’s good for you.

Binge, Pray, Whine

I’ve never read the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and I haven’t seen the movie. I have nothing against it, it’s just that I have trouble with the “eat” part. Reading about that isn’t helpful to a recovering binge-eating addict.

Mood music:

My therapist actually brought up the book during one of our sessions. He wanted to know if I’d read it. I scowled at him and asked why the hell a guy like me would ever read a book like that. Then he started raving about what a powerful story of self-discovery it is.

I told him I don’t care about some woman traveling around the world eating, praying and loving. I have a habit of taunting my therapist.

By the way, he hated the movie adaptation.

I’m bringing all this up because a friend was on Facebook the other day expressing a similar view on the book — or at least her perception of the book.

She said she “refuses to read Eat Pray Schtup or watch the movie” and added:

“I just think there are too many adults who right tell-alls of their screwed up lives. It’s always a story like: “drink/drug/sex addict leaves abuser/partner/dysfunctional family to join an ashram/climb Everest/sail around the world and discovers another dysfunctional relationship/they are just as screwed up only better traveled/Jesus. Actually, I am OK with that last one but why can’t they just Grow Up And Deal withoout writing a pathologically narcissistic book about it?”

As someone who tells all about his formerly screwed-up life in this blog, I have a few thoughts on the matter.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that people like us have a strong narcissistic streak in us. You’ll never find a more self-absorbed person on this Earth than the one who struggles with mental illness and addiction. My personal examples are here, here and here.

But I think it’s OK to write about it as long as there’s some valuable insight for someone who needs it. At worst, it’s harmless.

I’ve seen good tell-alls and bad tell-alls. The bad ones tend to be books that focus on burning people other than the author. The “set-the-record-straight” crap.

People like us do get a ton of healing from the writing process. When we “tell all” we get all the slime out of our head. Most people do that in the form of a personal diary. I guess I did it as a public blog because I wanted other outcasts to see that they weren’t freaks and could go for a better life.

I do agree with my friend that the “going around the world to find myself” stuff is annoying as all hell. I recently saw a commercial on TV for a new series where this guy keeps having conversations with his dead brother and ultimately decides to take a boat ride around the world to find himself or become a man or whatever.

I glared at the screen and said to Erin, “Well that’s just stupid.”

I’ve had conversations with my dead brother plenty of times. But I didn’t need to steal a boat out if Quincy to purge the insanity in my head. Prozac worked for that. And my brother would have told me I was being an idiot, anyway. 

I have nothing against “Eat, Pray, Love.” How could I? I haven’t read the thing.

I also don’t object to tell-alls, as long as the author is honest.

As for some of the lines I’ve heard about from the book, including the one about God giving you Girl Scout cookies before slamming the door in your face, that’s pretty damn dumb, if the book really says that.

God would never give me Girl Scout cookies. He knows I’d just binge the box away.

From Confusion to Wisdom

I’ve crashed many times while blasting down the road of life. The car is in one piece now and I’ve learned to throttle back some. And when I hear the following words of wisdom, I KNOW it’s the truth:

Mood music:

ACCEPTANCE

‎”Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill someone else.” – Matt Baldwin, Snow Rising (thanks, Cheryl Snapp Conner, for pointing this one out.

“People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers

“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” – Warren Bennis

FAITH

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” – Marian Wright Edelman

“Faith is not belief. Belief is passive. Faith is active.” – Edith Hamilton

“Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.” – Mary McLeod Bethune

FEAR

“Hate is a disease. It is fear’s messenger and it makes us do terrible things in a shadow of our better selves, of what we could be.” – Colin Farrell

“The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief.” – William Shakespeare

“Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear.” – Cheri Huber

“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” – Swedish proverb

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

FORGIVENESS

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee/And I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.” – Robert Frost

“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” – John F. Kennedy

“In the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times 7. Well, I want you all to know that I’m keeping a chart.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton

“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” – William Blake

ADDICTION

“A grateful heart doesn’t eat.” — Over-eaters Anonymous saying.

“Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” — George Carlin

“when you can’t climb your way out of such a hole, you tend to crouch down and call it home…”
— Nikki Sixx (The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star)

“What’s worse? Being strung out or being fat?” — Nikki Sixx (The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star

“When You’ve lost it all….thats when you realize that Life is Beautiful.”
— Nikki Sixx

“If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” -AA saying

“I spent a lifetime in hell and it only took me twelve steps to get to heaven.” -AA saying

MENTAL ILLNESS

“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness” -Richard Carlson

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.
– Bill Clinton“My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves” – Socrates

“The main symptom of a psychiatric case is that the person is perfectly unaware that he is a psychiatric case.” – Oleg P. Shchepin in the New York Times, Nov 1988.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves.” – Carl Jung

Done Eating by 3 p.m., Christmas Day

It was a good Christmas for me, for more than all the usual reasons.

Mood music:

There was the usual joy: Being around family, getting the chance to lie around much more than usual, watching the kids go Christmas crazy.

Mass was good, with a homily that pointed out that Jesus was as human as they come during his 33 years of living as a mere mortal. He got scared, angry, enjoyed friendship, passed out exhausted after a hard day’s work.

One of the joys of the day was that I didn’t make it about binge eating like I used to. I had a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was actually done eating for the day by 3 p.m.

To some it would seem like I deprived myself. After all, one of the things we like to do at Christmas is stuff ourselves. For the average person that’s fine. Most of the year they eat in the normal fashion and can afford to indulge on holidays.

But if you’re a compulsive binge eater like I was, chances are you stuff yourself holiday-style every day. Holiday eating becomes just another day in the dysfunctional neighborhood.

As part of my recovery from this crippling addiction, the holiday eating has to be reigned in considerably. To indulge is to fall off the wagon into relapse. I came close to doing that on Christmas Eve, 2009. Not this time, though.

And while that might seem like deprivation, to me it’s a gift.

I don’t have to pollute myself and fall to my eating disorder to have a Merry Christmas. In fact, it was a Merry Christmas BECAUSE I didn’t eat.

If you’ve done what I’ve done in the past, you’ll understand why this is so important to me. Especially since my recovery has been on shaky ground for awhile. 

I’ve kept it together, but got sloppy. I’m about to make some significant changes in my program as a result.

But for now, I sit here by the glow of the Christmas tree listening to old-school Van Halen and drinking coffee as my kids play with their new toys.

I’m not a bloated mess with a head possessed by flour and sugar.

And I’m grateful.

12-25-10 Blessed

Yeah. Christmas really doesn’t suck like it used to. And I’m the luckiest guy on Earth.

Life isn’t perfect. It never will be. Not supposed to be. But I’m finally starting to move past the idea that Christmas is supposed to always be perfect, sparkling and free of pain and strife.

I’m looking at a lot of painful, hard work in the rear-view mirror. Years of intense therapy, the decision to bring my addictions to heel, letting God in and going on medication. In the last couple of years, all that toil has been starting to pay off and I’ve felt joys I could never feel before.

I think the biggest reason I’m not dreading Christmas this time is that my perspective has changed. I’m not craving a “Pleasantville” atmosphere where everyone kicks back and smiles all jolly. I’m not expecting things to be idyllic. I guess you can say I’ve lowered my expectations.

People are still going to fight. Cars will still break down. Loved ones will still die. That no longer means Christmas is destroyed.

A lot of this is based on my deepening Faith.  

This time of year is about celebrating the birth of Christ. I love the glow of a lit Christmas tree as much as the next person. But I don’t care so much about all the gifting back and forth. It feels good to give, but I’ve realized the best thing I can give is my time for a friend in need or a family that’s always there for me.

If not for the sacrifice Jesus made for us sinners, I’d be in a world of shit. For all I know I still am. Purging evil behavior is a complicated task and I very much doubt I’ve mastered it.

Celebrating His birthday is wholly appropriate, regardless of the twists and turns life will inevitably take. Because that birth was our second chance — my second chance.

If you’re a skeptic and think I’m getting into crazy talk, I don’t care. I know I’m no better or worse than you, though in my delusional moments I like to think I am.

This is where my road has taken me, and I’m grateful for it.

Have a Blessed Christmas, everyone.

Facebook Follow Friday: Christmas Eve

Welcome to the latest edition of Facebook Follow Friday. Each Friday there’s a tradition on Twitter called Follow Friday, and I decided to do a Facebook version here. What’s it have to do with OCD and addiction, you ask?

Mood music:

Simple: A person in recovery needs the people around him/her to stay sober and abstinent. Most important are your family and closest friends. But the friends on Facebook can be helpful too, especially those who brighten up the wall with positive, witty, thoughtful posts. That stuff rubs off on the reader, and if that reader has fought depression, addiction, anxiety and all those other things, the mood gets a needed lift.

This week I go way back to my Revere roots and acknowledge a few faces from childhood.

Let’s get to it:

Tina Doria-Yahiaoui: As far as I can remember, Tina and I didn’t get along too well in junior high. But she was never mean, though I probably was. I did have a big chip on my shoulder back then. We reconnected sometime this year and I’m always cheered by her posts about family. She clearly loves being a mom. And as I’ve noted before, good moms are important.

Stevie Hemeon: I recently wrote about what a turd I was to Stevie back in the day, but I want to acknowledge him again because there’s something about his posts I find pretty special: The guy has a lot of health challenges these days and posts about it regularly. But he always does so with a positive spin. He maintains some cheer and never gets bitter about it. Take it from someone who had his share of health problems in the past, staying positive is exceptionally difficult. Stevie pulls it off, and that’s gotta be rubbing off on other people who need it.

Joe Nugent III: When Joe and I first reconnected on Facebook earlier this year, the first thing he did was apologize for being a punk when we were kids. I laughed, because we were all punks and I never held it against him. Grade school kids can’t be expected to be angels, especially if they’re from Revere. 😉 In junior high, Joe was actually one of the more polite, scholarly and popular kids in the building, and I remember that more than the other stuff. It turns out we’ve followed similar paths in adulthood, pursuing careers in journalism. His work appears to have rocked the boat up in Maine, and if you are a journalist who sees wrongs that need to be righted, rocking the boat is exactly the way life should be. 

Jayne Chick: Jayne was one of my schoolmates from the Roosevelt School in the Point of Pines. She was always a sunny personality. On Facebook, I’m cheered by her posts about family. Like Tina, she shows her love of being a mom. She also stays positive in a world that can make that difficult at times.

Maria Cole: Maria was my third-grade teacher at the Roosevelt School. She was one of everyone’s favorite teachers at that. I absolutely love being reconnected with her and having grown-up conversations. And, by the way, if you live or work in the Wakefield, Mass. area, you should drop by her office. She’s a Reiki practitioner, which is, as she says in her profile, “a simple and holistic method of healing the body and reducing stress.” I know quite a few people who could use some of that.

Joyce Coluntino: She was my English teacher in 7th and 8th grade, and despite all the adversity that was going on in my life at the time and the bad attitude that experience gave me, she never gave up on me. I took note of that, and it boosted my morale enough to make it to high school. Her help there can’t be overstated, because back then I really didn’t care what happened to me.

That’ll do it for this week. Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Confession

Being the screw-up that I am, I need to empty the trash from my soul every few months. Last night I did just that. Here’s why Confession is so important to me.

Mood music:

Simply put, Confession is where I go to unload all the things I keep doing wrong. It’s just me and the priest. It’s a moment of truth, where I can be honest about myself before God and let the accumulated angst, guilt and exhaustion drip away.

For those of you who have different beliefs, the concept may not make sense. And  that’s understandable.

I know a lot of good Catholics who struggle with it.

One guy I know hasn’t been to Confession in nearly a decade. Last time he went he listed his sins to a priest who was later convicted of sexual abuse. Why, he asked me one day, should he be telling his sins to someone who was supposed to be clean and trustworthy, but was in fact dripping with filth more foul than anything he could confess?

It’s a fair question.

I’m sure a lot of people in Haverhill are going through the same emotions over Father Keith LeBlanc, who allegedly used church funds to buy pornography. Is this the kind of person you want to go to to confess about having dirty thoughts when an attractive woman walks by?

The man who confessed to a sexually abusive priest is a good man. He raised four children who grew up to be pretty awesome. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He also continues to go to church almost every Sunday.

But he doesn’t go to Confession because he doesn’t believe he should be confessing to a priest who is full of sin himself.

It sucks that he feels that way, because I think Confession would do him good. At the same time, I can’t blame him. That kind of anger takes a lot of years to tame.

Here’s how I see it:

We forget priests are human, prone to all the mistakes the rest of us make. In the case of Father LeBlanc, he was under the spell of one of the most insidious addictions a person could have. When the addiction has you by the balls, you do terrible things to feed the habit. Stealing money, for example.

My most destructive addiction was compulsive binge eating. I always knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop. And I used a lot of money that wasn’t mine to feed that addiction. It was money from the family account, but it could have easily been money from someplace else.

My kids have been selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts and I recently took the order form and cash envelope to work to sell some for them. For a good three weeks I had an envelope full of cash sitting in my laptop bag. Five or 10 years ago, chances are pretty good that I would have burned through some or all of that money to get my fix. Thank God I don’t have to face that danger today.

Addicts of all stripes: Food, booze, drugs — know exactly what I’m talking about.

You know it’s wrong. You badly want to stop. BUT YOU CAN’T.

Sounds like every other sin out there.

Priests have a role to play in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the official term for Confession. Their job is to sit there and absorb someone else’s sins, then grant forgiveness.

What people fail to understand is that they are telling their sins to God. The priest is just a conduit.

It’s a brutally hard concept to swallow, especially when we spend our lives trying to oversimplify the fight between good and evil.

All I know if that Confession is important to me.

I screw up daily. I’m forgiven for sins and then I go out and do the same stupid things all over again. It’s like a trash can. You empty it and spend the next week filling it back up with garbage. Then it has to be emptied again. 

When I go into the Confession booth and dump out the garbage, I walk away feeling a hundred pounds lighter.

If that sounds stupid to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

In this blog, I can only tell you where I’ve been and how I got through my own personal hell.

But what works for me can’t possibly work for everyone.

I’m just glad I found another piece of God’s Grace. Hopefully, I’m a better man for it.