What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

A friend keeps telling me about big fears he has of not getting the mortgage paid and being homeless. There’s no danger of that happening. But OCD and reality rarely see eye to eye.

Mood music:

He wrote:

My Biggest Fear is that we will lose our house because we will get too far behind in our mortgage and we will end up homeless. 

I even wrote a script that details how it all happens as recommended in my group therapy. The more you read it, the less scared you are supposed to become. So far not working too well.

Ah, yes. The script. I remember doing those. Mine were different, though.

Instead of financial ruin, I focused on what would happen if I got on a plane and the plane went down, or what would happen if I didn’t do a perfect job on a work project, and what would happen if my wife was arguing with me and I actually argued back.

Each script ended pretty much the same: The worst would happen: I’d be vaporized in the plane crash, fired from the job and divorced from the wife.

At some point I stopped. I know that’s the part you want to know about, old friend. Where was the point when I learned to stop thinking in terrifying absolutes?

You want me to help you write a script around that, where only the best of outcomes happen.

But I can’t do that for you.

The uncomfortable fact is that at some critical moments when I could have engaged in the same old behavior, I went a different way. I can’t pinpoint the moments, but I know that all the weekly therapy sessions and careful adjustments of my medication slowly brought me to a point where I could formulate different outcomes.

One day at my then-job, I was asked to do something I didn’t agree with. Exhausted from the people-pleasing game, I just said fuck it and pushed back. You know what happened? The boss made me do it anyway. It was nothing major. The disagreement was over how a story should be angled. But the boss didn’t fire me. And so I pushed back more often.

The more I pushed back, the more comfortable it became for me. I started enjoying my work a lot more.

Arguing with my wife was harder. It still is. I don’t like to push back because I’m afraid I’ll push too hard and knock my marriage over the cliff. But I argue back a lot more than I used to, and you know what? We’re better for it. She didn’t leave, and the danger was never there. If anything, I risked the marriage more by avoiding the difficult conversations at all costs.

As for the planes, I ride them all the time now without incident.

The uncomfortable fact is this: There’s no playbook for facing your fears. At some point, you have the moments of truth and you have to rise to the occasion. And when you do, you won’t realize you’re doing it.

The only way out of hell is through it, the old saying goes. It’s the truth.

If you fear financial ruin, the only way out is through it. That means you have to take a more active role in the family finances and relieve your spouse of some of the tough decisions. If your wife is like mine back when I was at my worst, she sees you as another of her children right now. She has to make all the tough calls because you can’t.

If that’s not a sign to you that you have to get more involved in the decisions, nothing will ever convince you.

But I know you. You’re more of a realist than that. You know you have to face your fears head on. That scares the shit out of you. But once you get started, the fear will get smaller.

Not what you wanted to hear? Oh, well. That’s all I got for you. Nothing is more terrifying. But nothing is more worth it. It doesn’t make sense to hear it, but that’s where I’ve been.

Here’s a tip to get you started. When you’re facing a fear, picture yourself flipping it off, with your fist on fire. Just like this:

It’s better than picturing the fear in front of you in its underwear.

I Miss The Beer Bottle Collection Under The Patio

In my opinion there’s no better way to release anger and frustration than prayer. But let’s be honest: Sometimes it helps to break things.

Mood music: 

When I lived in the house on Revere Beach, there was a storage room beneath the concrete patio where I collected all the empty beer bottles from the numerous parties we had in the basement apartment.

I spent a lot of time in that room. I’d blast my old stereo, with sounds of The Ramones or Black Sabbath wafting through the air. I’d sneak cigarettes, read and write a lot of bad poetry.

And, when life became too much to take, which was often, I’d line those bottles against the wall and smash them. I’d throw the old, decaying books that belonged to my great-grandmother, left behind from when she was living in the basement apartment. I’d throw other bottles. I’d throw just about anything, enchanted by the different sounds you got from using different objects.

To an angry 19 year old with a softball-sized chip on his shoulder, it was the most satisfying release I could get without being drunk or stoned — though I was still drunk and stoned a fair amount of the time. And it was better than hitting people, not that I was ever a good shot when real people were in front of me.

Sometimes I miss the beer bottle collection under the patio. It made for such a quick, easy release of anger.

I guess you have to find a better way when you’re closing in on your middle ages.

Breaking bottles around the kids wouldn’t exactly be model parenting.

I guess that’s why, in my 30s, I would break myself repeatedly with vicious food binges. If I couldn’t make bottles go boom, I could at least make my gut go boom.

But that’s problematic, too. The belly doesn’t go boom under those conditions. It just gets bigger and bouncier.

Today, with the binge eating in remission and nothing but a keyboard in front of me, I just pound the shit out of the keys, writing, writing, writing.

You know what? It’s almost as good as smashing beer bottles.

But I still miss it some days.

A Loss Beyond All Reason and Comprehension

I’m praying hard for my co-worker and friend Joan Ritchie Goodchild and her husband Bryan. Bryan’s uncle and cousin were swept away in the flash flooding Tropical Storm Irene caused in Vermont Sunday.

Mood music:

Here’s the basics from the Burlington Free Press:

The body of Rutland Water Treatment Plant Supervisor Michael Garofano, 55, was found Monday near the raging brook feeding the Rutland city reservoir he and his 24-year-old son, Mike, went to check Sunday afternoon.

The younger Garofano is missing and “feared dead,” state emergency management officials said. A search was under way for his body.

As Joan said on her Facebook page yesterday: “The whim of fate can be incomprehensibly cruel and unfair.”

There’s not much I can say about this other than that I’m sad and my heart aches for Joan and her family.

I’m going to keep praying for them and I ask that you do the same.

I’ll end with a couple random thoughts:

–First, this quote from Mister Rogers rings true, and, understanding his words as I do, I know this family will pull through:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.

–In times like these it can be easy to wonder how the fuck God allows these things to happen. I wanted to kick God in the guts when my brother died, when my parents divorced, when my friend Sean Marley committed suicide. When the unthinkable happens, it becomes impossible to comprehend the big plan.

But as Mister Rogers said, the helpers always come. They always help you through the ugly stuff.

This will be no exception.

But that doesn’t make this suck any less.

This Is No Place To Make Amends

After running the post “Stiffy” a few days ago, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, writing it was a mistake. Or maybe it simply didn’t go far enough.

Like many topics in this blog, I wrote it to yank another skeleton out of the closet and acknowledge that as a teenager, while I was getting bullied and should have related to others who were bullied, I just turned around and kicked around someone I thought was weaker than me.

It’s not the first regret that I’ve mentioned here. In another post, “One of my Biggest Regrets,” I wrote about a New Hampshire reporter from my Eagle-Tribune days who I was terrible to. I called her early one morning to chew her out over a story that didn’t get done, knowing full well her husband was due to have heart surgery that very morning.

It’s a recurring theme here. I tell you about someone I was a awful to, and it’s like I’m making an amends to that person.

But I’m not, really. Amends can only be made face-to-face. In that regard, I’m stuck in neutral.

This all occurred to me after a friend with her own experience in being bullied sent me this message:

I remember being picked on from as early on as 2nd grade all the way through senior year of high school (alternative school, you know “short bus”, “the troubled kids”) I got there by trying to kill myself. I still remember what one of the intake workers said about my overdose: “Hey, you know that could get ya killed…hahaha”… trying to relate to the poor depressed girl. I replied, “Yeah, that’s the point.

Being tormented by my peers in one of the hardest things I have tried to let go of in my life. There is a pile of abuse material, neglect, alcohol and drug addiction (of my family), homelessness, being a foster child, being locked up in psyche…etc., that I could talk about…but, somehow being alienated by the people ( your peers), perhaps even those that could of helped you in that situation, hurt, and still does.

If you remember me from “around the neighborhood”, Bill, its probably because I was the scapegoat for a lot of other kids’ nastiness, including my own sister. So, am I crying in my tea (sorry, I don’t drink), here? I hope not. I’m doing the best to let you know how your “friend” probably felt: useless, self-hating, desperate, and alone.

I hope he was stronger than I was, I hope for you that he is doing well, and can laugh it all off.

My personal opinion is that you are making amends to make yourself feel better. If you want this person to know how you feel, that you are sorry, that you wish you had not done the things you did…..don’t write a blog about it, don’t say: ” hey if you happen to see so and so let him know I wrote a blog about him, cuz I’m so fucking cool … hire your own private detective, find the guy, meet him face to face, and make your amends. That’s being a man. Abuse creates monsters, and what children do to each other while growing up is abuse, sometimes with fatal consequences. I wonder if Columbine would of even happened if adults had a “no tolerance” reaction to any abuse, because they know, and they let it happen all the time.

The line that really cut me to the core was the suggestion that I wrote that post to make myself feel better.

Because in hindsight, it’s true.

Coming clean here is an important step. But I’m really not making my amends unless I’m doing it directly to the person who needs to hear it.

It’s time for me to put the process in motion.

There are many people I need to make peace with.

Screw Hurricane Irene. Let’s Rock!

On my facebook wall, an old friend, Taimee Leary Scarpa, posted this: “Hope you have a happy birthday. Hope you are able to fit in some fun before you start taping your windows for Hurricane Irene, lol.”

She was referring to the events I described in the post “Fear and Duct Tape.”

Truth be told, Hurricanes stopped scaring me some time ago. Learning to ditch the fear and anxiety of my younger years is the main reason.

If anything, I’m feeling a mix of excitement — after all, a hurricane is something you don’t get to see every day — and slight irritation because we had some nice Sunday plans that are going to get spoiled.

But while the electricity is still on, I’m going to make the most of it and play some loud rock n’ roll. Feel free to join me:

OCD Diaries

41 Years

Some people get depressed on their birthday. Not me. The fact that I turn 41 today is a freak of nature. But a year into my forties, I know I have more cleaning up to do.

Mood music:

Item: When I was sick with the Crohn’s Disease as a kid, I lost a lot of blood and developed several side ailments. I’m told by my parents that the doctor’s were going to remove the colon more than once. It didn’t happen. They tell me I was closing in on death more than once. I doubt it was ever that serious. Either way, here I am.

Item: When the OCD was burning out of control, I often felt I’d die young. I was never suicidal, but I had a fatalistic view of things. I just assumed I wasn’t long for this world and I didn’t care. I certainly did a lot to slowly help the dying process along. That’s what addicts do. We feed the addiction compulsively knowing full well what the consequences will be.

When I was a prisoner to fear and anxiety, I really didn’t want to live long. I isolated myself. Fortunately, I never had the guts to do anything about it. And like I said, suicide was never an option.

I spent much of my 30s on the couch with a shattered back, and escaped with the TV. I was breathing, but I was also as good as dead some of the time.

I’ve watched others go before me at a young age. MichaelSean. Even Peter. Lose the young people in your life often enough and you’ll start assuming you’re next.

When you live for yourself and don’t put faith in God, you’re not really living. When it’s all about you, there no room to let all the other life in. So the soul shrivels and hardens. I’ve been there.

I also had a strange fear of current events and was convinced at one point that the world would burn in a nuclear holocaust before I hit 30. That hasn’t happened yet.

So here I am at 41, and it’s almost comical that I’m still here.

I’m more grateful than you could imagine for the turn of events my life has taken in the last six years.

I’ve learned to stop over-thinking and manage the OCD. When you learn to stop over-thinking, a lot of things that used to be daunting become a lot easier. You also find yourself in a lot of precious moments that were always there. But you didn’t notice them because you were sick with worry.

I notice them now, and I am Blessed far beyond what I probably deserve.

I have a career that I love.

I have the best wife on Earth and two boys that teach me something new every day.

I have many, many friends who have helped me along in more ways than they’ll ever know.

I have my 12-Step program and I’m not giving in to the worst of my addictions.

Most importantly, I have God in my life. When you put your faith in Him, there’s a lot less to be afraid of. Aging is one of the first things you stop worrying about.

So here I am at 41. feeling a lot better about myself than I did at 31. In fact, 31 was one of the low points.

But I’d be in denial if I told you everything was perfect beyond perfect. I wouldn’t tell you that anyway, because I’ve always thought that perfection was a bullshit concept. That makes it all the more ironic and comical that OCD would be the life-long thorn in my side.

I just recently quit smoking, and I’m still missing the hell out of that vice. I haven’t gone on a food binge in nearly three years, but there are still days where I’m not sure I’ve made the best choices; those days where my skin feels just a little too loose and flabby.

I still go to my meetings, but there are many days where I’d rather do anything but go to a meeting. I go because I have to, but I don’t always want to.

And while I have God in my life, I still manage to be an asshole to Him a lot of the time.

At 41, I’m still very much the work in progress. The scars are merely the scaffolding and newly inserted steel beams propping me up.

I don’t know what comes next, but I have much less fear about the unknown.

And so I think WILL have a happy birthday.

OCD Diaries

A Call From My Mother

It’s Wednesday morning. I’m working from home, face behind the computer. My kids and two neighborhood kids are tearing though the house, overturning everything in sight. Then the phone rings.

Mood music:

“It’s been five years,” the voice on the other end says. “Can’t we fix this?”

It’s my mother. I saw her at my cousin’s wedding two weeks ago but we largely avoided contact. We’re six years into an estrangement that I think is the result of shared mental illness.

Can we fix this?

I really don’t know.

I want to. I’ve never been happy about what happened, though I felt and still feel that the split was necessary.

Some folks think this stuff is simple. Life’s too short not to get along, they say. But life is far more complex than that. Relationships with a history of abuse? That’s one of the most complex and confusing beasts of all.

I’ve had a lot of love and blessings in my life in the last few years. I’ve come far in overcoming addictions and mental illness. Even the family discord has served a purpose. Somewhere along the way, I’ve found myself.

It would be nice if I could mend some more relationships. But I have to be careful.

At the wedding, my Uncle Bobby, the last of the siblings that included my grandmother, took me aside at one point and said life is too short to hate.

He is absolutely right.

But hate has nothing to do with it.

Mistrust, hurt feelings and deep disagreements over right and wrong? Absolutely. But not hate.

If it were about hate, all this would be cut, dry and easy.

I’ll have to do some hard thinking over this one.

The French Toast Alert System

For those in New England who tend to panic over impending hurricanes, here’s something that’ll help you prepare while taking the edge off.

From the folks who run the excellent Universal Hub site, I direct you to the French Toast Alert System. (They also have a Facebook page.)

“The French Toast Alert System has been developed in consultation with local and federal emergency officials to help you determine when to panic and rush to the store to buy milk, eggs and bread.”

Visit the site for regular updates on Irene and other hurricanes. This thing was primarily designed for the winter Nor’easter season. Here’s the color-coded alert system they use. It’s truly the best thing I’ve seen since DHS put out that color-coded terror alert system:

Low: No storm predicted. Harvey Leonard sighs and looks dour on the evening news. Go about your daily business but consider buying second refrigerator for basement, diesel generator. Good time to replenish stocks of maple syrup, cinnamon.

Guarded: Light snow predicted. Subtle grin appears on Harvey Leonard’s face. Check car fuel gauge, memorize quickest route to emergency supermarket should conditions change.

Elevated: Moderate, plowable snow predicted. Harvey Leonard openly smiles during report. Empty your trunk to make room for milk, eggs and bread. Clear space in refrigerator and head to store for an extra gallon of milk, a spare dozen eggs and a new loaf of bread.

High: Heavy snow predicted. Harvey Leonard breaks into huge grin, can’t keep his hands off the weather map. Proceed at speed limit before snow starts to nearest supermarket to pick up two gallons of milk, a couple dozen eggs and two loaves of bread – per person in household.

Severe: Nor’easter predicted. This is it, people, THE BIG ONE. Harvey Leonard makes repeated references to the Blizzard of ’78. RUSH to emergency supermarket NOW for multiple gallons of milk, cartons of eggs and loaves of bread. IGNORE cries of little old lady you’ve just trampled in mad rush to get last gallon of milk. Place pets in basement for use as emergency food supply if needed.

At this point, we are at “elevated”

You Can’t Be Everyone’s Friend

I once wrote about an obsession with the Facebook friend count. I worried about offending people who de-friended me. Lately I realize it’s ok if I can’t be everyone’s friend. I’m even warming to the idea.

Mood music:

I’ve always had this stupid idea that I needed to be everyone’s friend. Even when I was bullying someone, I’d turn around and try to be their friend. I always wanted everyone in my family to like me, even when I was busy hating them.

I’ve carried that into adulthood and got obsessed about it with things like Facebook. This morning I glanced at my friend count and it was 1,713. I could have sworn it was 1,715 a few days ago. So I started looking around to see who might have gotten mad at me. I noticed that three relatives had disconnected from me. A year ago that would have bothered me a lot more than it did this morning.

“At least my ‘friends’ seem to be sticking around,” I thought to myself.

Sarcasm aside, I do think I’m turning a corner with this whole like-dislike thing. Slowly, it’s sinking in that I need to do a better job at listening to my own words. At the beginning of this blog is a post called “Being a People Pleaser is Dumb.” I wrote about how I wanted to be the golden boy at work more than anything back in the day, until I realized it was absolutely impossible to please everyone all the time. In fact, some people are unworthy of the effort.

I’ve had to learn that lesson all over again in the social networking world.

When people walk away from me online, I figure it’s because they don’t particularly enjoy this blog. So be it.

You can’t be everyone’s friend. You shouldn’t be everyone’s friend.

I’m slowly warming to the idea that if some people don’t like you it’s because you have the stones to take a stand on the things you believe in.

You either like me or you don’t. It’s all good.

I’m connected to a lot of people I’m not particularly fond of these days. It’s nothing personal. I just find find the whiny, woe-is-me status updates grating. Facebook is full of that stuff, along with all the self-righteous, pre-manufactured statements people wrap their arms around.

But it’s your profile.

Do what you want with it, and I’ll do what I want with mine.

OCD Diaries

Earthquakes, Fear and Anxiety

An earthquake centered in northern Virginia just rattled a huge part of the eastern seaboard. I think our building in Framingham, Mass. shook some, but I’m not sure.

Mood music: 

We’ve had quakes in New England. They happen often, in fact, but they are usually small. This was bigger than usual, but I wasn’t bothered.

Like hurricanes and other natural hazards, the thought of earthquakes used to terrify me. When I made my first trip to California, I think the worry of earthquakes sat in the back of my head the whole time.

I’ve felt the ground and walls shake many times, though, and it was always in my head. I used to have anxiety and panic attacks before I got my issues figured out, and sometimes, when in the middle of one, I would feel the sensation of things around me shaking.

I can’t really remember the last time that happened. I’ll chalk that up as a good thing.

As for today’s quake, the worst of it is a steady stream of bad jokes on Twitter.

Carry on…