Fatherhood Saved Ozzy, Eddie & Me

Yesterday I watched the “God Bless Ozzy Osbourne” documentary, which focused heavily on how his addictions maimed him and his family over four decades. Though my addictive behavior pales by comparison, it still struck a chord.

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What hit me deepest is how Ozzy finally decided to get real sobriety after his son Jack had kicked drugs and alcohol. It took his son to show him the light.

There’s a similar plot in the recent comeback of Van Halen. Armed with the knowledge that he’d be able to make music with his son if he cleaned up, Edward Van Halen finally got sober a few years ago.

The son showing dad the light theme is an old one. It’s the whole “Luke Skywalker helping Darth Vader find his good side again” story. Only in the real life examples, the fathers get to live after having their epiphany.

In the documentary, we see Ozzy changing into a different, crazy person who continuously brings heartbreak to his family — especially his children. The daughter from his first marriage is asked point-blank if he was a good Dad. Her answer is a simple “No.” We learn — though it’s not really a surprise, given how incoherent he was in all the episodes — how his alcoholism was at its worst during the run of “The Osbournes” and how his youngest kids started using in that period. Finally, we see his son Jack deciding to clean up, inspiring his father to do the same.

Like I said, my addictive personality didn’t come close to the levels of Ozzy Osbourne or Edward Van Halen. But it was bad enough that I can relate to things like being useless on the couch when my kids needed me. I was never that way all the time, and I’ve been a pretty active Dad more often than not. But I am guilty of those bad moments.

But what I relate to most is how it took becoming a parent to drive home the need for me to be a better man and reign in my demons — the OCD and addictive behavior    that was a byproduct of constant fear, anxiety and exhaustion.

It wasn’t an instant thing — Sean was almost 4 and Duncan was was barely 2 when I realized things were not right in my head — but the cattle prod was definitely my hunger to be a better parent.

So yeah, I have to say I’m inspired by these rock n’ roll stories.

Addiction — And Security Journalism — Showed Me That Anonymity Matters

Journalists like me have never been particularly comfortable using anonymous sources. When you don’t name names, someone inevitably questions if your source is real or imagined.

But after dealing with some addictions in recent years, I feel differently about it.

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There are some important distinctions to be made from the outset: I’ve written opinion pieces in my day job as a security journalist that have been critical of the hacker group Anonymous for hiding their identities while doing damage to others.

Going behind a mask so you can launch protests is fine with me, because honesty can be difficult when you fear the FBI agents at the door. I’ve been specifically critical of cases where I thought their actions had harmed innocent bystanders. In cases where innocents are hurt, hiding behind a mask makes you a coward, in my opinion.

That aside, we do live in a world where speaking your mind will get you blackballed, investigated or unfriended and unfollowed — if the latter two matter to you.

In one example where we were covering a data breach, a former employee wanted to tell us what really went on in the lead-up to the breach. But the person didn’t want their name used for fear that the company would try to sue them or hurt their chances of landing future employment. I agreed. A few days later, the person decided not to tell their story because people still in the company were snooping around the LinkedIn profiles of former employees. I can’t say I blame the person.

Indeed, covering security has made me understand the importance of anonymity compared to my experiences in community journalism.

But my experiences with addiction are what truly brought the importance of anonymity home for me.

Though I chose to tell everyone about my dependence on binge eating and, to a lesser extent, pain pills and alcohol, I’ve met a lot of people in OA and AA who never, ever would have started dealing with their demons if they had to do so publicly  — in front of friends, family and workmates. The prospect of being blackballed, fired or worse would have kept them on the same path to self destruction.

But because they can go somewhere where everyone is going through the same ugliness and not have their names exposed, they can be brutally honest about themselves and take those few extra steps to get help.

It would be nice if we lived in a world where everyone honored naked honesty. But as Ice-T once rapped in a Body Count song: “Shit ain’t like that. It’s real fucked up.”

I was lucky. I was able to out myself and my demons without getting blackballed. It’s been an immensely positive experience. But you can’t always depend on the loving, respectful response I got.

In that environment, if anonymity can help a few more people get at the truth about themselves and the world they live in, then let it be.

When The Going Gets Tough, I Disconnect

I’m leaving my weekly therapy sessions with a headache these days, because I’m working through another deeply embedded flaw in my soul.

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It’s not nearly as bad as the therapy I had in 2004-2006, when I had to endlessly churn the sewage of my childhood memories in search of clues on what was wrong with me and how I got that way. Back then, I didn’t know myself very well. Now I do.

Knowing myself as I do, I’ve started to zero in on the ongoing flaws that hold me back and hurt loved ones. That apparently requires a few more trips to the sewer.

I’ll give you a fuller account further along in this process. For now, let’s just say I have a wall I tend to hide behind when the going gets tough. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if not for the fact that life is ALWAYS tough. Not just for me, but for everyone. We all have our Crosses to carry and difficulties to endure. In my case, it’s a lot harder with a wall in the way.

So here we are again. Back in the mental sewer. I know my way around now, but the stench can still be too much to take.

The first question from the therapist was if I had talked to my mother lately. No, I told him. I thought Mom and I were making progress in December, but she couldn’t handle this blog and went off the deep end. I won’t defend myself. She’s entitled to her point of view. But let’s just say I was hoping to be writing posts by now about how we were reconciling.

So no, I told him. We’re not talking.

Then he asked about how I handled my brother’s death when I was 13. I told him I pretty much disconnected from the world. Same thing after my best friend killed himself in 1996.

“You’re starting to see the pattern?” the therapist asked.

Yeah. When the going gets tough, I disconnect. The bigger events caused that self-defense mechanism to take root all those years ago. But it kicks in during life’s more routine challenges. And when the wall goes up, my anger level kicks up a few decibels. I don’t do what I did in my teens and 20s: Throwing furniture through walls and plotting endless ways to find those who hurt me so I could hurt them back.

I’m not THAT guy anymore. But I do still get angry. When I do, I turn in on myself and brood.

But I knew that already.

Now the question is, what to I do about it?

I love my life now, and I’m blessed beyond measure. But the better my life gets, the more of an eyesore the wall becomes. It’s got to go.

My therapist has seen this stuff before. He knows the wall is rooted in the memory sewer.

So I guess I’ll be here for awhile longer.

Small Victories

Duncan and I took my father on a little walk around Deer Island yesterday. Dad still struggles from the stroke he had last year, but days like yesterday I admire his fighting spirit.

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I’ve been reluctant to take him on long walks, mainly because I don’t want him taking a nasty spill on my watch. But it was a beautiful spring day and he was eager, so who was I to argue?

Deer Island is an interesting place. One of the nastiest prisons in Massachusetts history used to be there. Now it’s the site of a massive water treatment plant — the facility credited with making Boston Harbor far cleaner than it was in past decades, when raw sewage used to get pumped into the harbor.

Dad moved slowly, but he was steady. He was telling us about the new tennis balls he just put on his walker. By the end of the walk, those tennis balls were toast, dragged to tatters.

Duncan enjoyed walking on the rocks, and spent the time talking about coordinates — something he is currently learning about.

We had to take frequent rests, as Dad can only take so much at once. But he was determined to go at least a mile.

Dad struggled toward the end, stopping every few feet. When it was over, he collapsed into the passenger seat of my car. But by then, he had gone more than a mile.

Not bad for a guy who needed a wheelchair to get around just a few short months ago.

Sometimes, it’s the smallest victories that count the most.

Godspeed, Barney Gallagher

Update: Barney Gallagher passed away this morning. He was a wonderful man who lived his life in a way we should all learn from. Godspeed, Barney.

Like everyone else who has worked at The Eagle-Tribune, my life has been touched by Barney Gallagher, an old-time journalist who reminded us young ones what the profession was about.

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I’ve been informed that Barney is gravely ill. This post is to honor the man and ask that you all say a prayer for him.

I first met Barney when I interviewed for the night editor job at The Eagle-Tribune in 1999. Then-managing editor Steve Billingham was asking me questions when he stopped, looked up, and said, “Hey, Barn!”

I looked up to see an old timer perusing items on a cork board at the back of the newsroom, next to where Billingham worked at the time. Barney walked around smiling, stopping every few feet to say hello to someone.

He was ALWAYS smiling.

As night editor, I got to know Barney well. It seemed as though he could magically appear at the scene whenever a fire, car crash or other incident happened on the streets of his beloved Haverhill — camera in hand.

As I’d sit there frantically working my way through a pile of stories I had to edit for the next morning’s papers, he’d breezily walk in with that smile of his, looking as relaxed and fresh as if he’d just had a 10-hour nap, roll of film in hand for the dark room to process.

Haverhill Editor Bill Cantwell once said, only half-joking, that Barney slept with a police scanner under his pillow.

Barney’s insight became immensely important to me when I moved to Haverhill to start my family in early 2001. I knew little about the city other than that my wife grew up there. I turned to Barney’s “My Haverhill” columns for an education on my new home.

Through his work, I learned the history of the city, names of the most noteworthy characters (the late harbormaster, Red Slavit, comes to mind), and, with his columns in hand, I set out to explore the neighborhoods, the river and the open spaces. He taught me where the seediest parts of town were located, as well as the most beautiful.

Above all, his columns always captured a theme we imperfect beings tend to overlook in the hustle and bustle of daily life — that a community is only as good as the people living there, and that anyone could make a difference for their neighbors.

When I’m having a bad day, cranky from all the petty fires fate likes to light in our path, I often think of Barney and his smile. By the time I got to know him he was already well into his senior years. He had been through it all and carried on secure in what few could understand — that life’s storms always passed into oblivion, and that if we kept our cool, we’d be left standing.

His life is a case study in how we should conduct ourselves. I thank God that I was lucky enough to know him.

I’ll end with this picture of a young Barney Gallagher, drink in hand, cigarette in mouth, symbolizing the old-school journalist. Thanks to The Eagle-Tribune’s managing editor, Gretchen Putnam, for posting it this morning on her Facebook page.

You’re in our prayers, Barney.

Beyond Boing Boing: Xeni Jardin Inspires Me

I’m a long-time reader of the Boing Boing site and have always been particularly fond of the work of editor Xeni Jardin. Her openness in talking about her breast cancer makes me appreciate her all the more.

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Jardin’s greatest strength as a writer has always been her ability to focus on the human side of technology, and she was doing just that in early December when she live tweeted her first mammogram. She poked fun at a procedure that scares the hell out of most women who have one for the first time, saying, among other things:

Comparing her experience to Katie Couric’s TV-documented colonoscopy some years back, she said:

At the end of this string of tweets came this:

She filled in the blanks with a column later on, in which she described having an ultrasound:

Dr. Kristi Funk is her name. How can anything go bad when the doctor’s name is Funk, and there are so many funny things to tweet? She told me to lie down, put some goop on my chest, and waved a wand through the goop. The waves appeared on a screen. It looked like NASA video, something the Mars rovers might transmit home to a JPL engineer searching for distant water.

She showed me a crater in the waves, a deep one, with rough edges and a rocky ridge along the northern rim. Calcification. Badly-defined boundaries. Not the lake we’d hoped to find.

“The first thing you’re going to learn about working with me is that I’m a straight shooter,” Dr. Funk said. Her voice was steady and reassuring.

“That’s how you know you can trust me. I’m going to tell you everything, and I’m going to tell it to you like it is.”

I forget the rest of what she said, but it added up to this: the crater was cancer.

As the words sank in, the Mars rover crawled over another steep ridge, out of the crater and into a valley, and found one of my lymph nodes, larger and darker than the others. A rocky prominence. A sentinel node. No water there, just fast-dividing cells that kill.

I believe that we are looking at breast cancer, and that it has spread to one of your lymph nodes, she said. 

Since then, Jardin has taken her readers through every step of her treatment experiences. She started a Twitter exchange the other day about how to wake up veins that have collapsed from too many IV needles. Having suffered through the collapsed veins as a kid when Crohn’s Disease made regular IV drips necessary, I knew how valuable this kind of exchange was.

She has tweeted about the sickening effects of chemo and not being able to taste her coffee in the morning.

She’s done it all with a lighthearted demeanor that makes the suffering accessible and less scary. For us, at least.

I’ve always had enormous respect for those who share the experience of a medical procedure many consider embarrassing. Many women are reluctant to get their boobs flattened into pancakes, just as I’ve never enjoyed the frequent colonoscopies I have to have because the childhood Chrohn’s Disease makes me a high risk for colon cancer in middle age.

But when someone shares the experience, it becomes less embarrassing and, more importantly, less mysterious and scary.

That’s why I’ve always respected Couric. Her on-air colonoscopy happened before Facebook and Twitter, where people share so much that nothing is surprising anymore. She did it to raise awareness after colon cancer killed her husband.

It made the procedure a lot less scary for people.

Jardin has done an admirable job making breast cancer treatment less scary. I think that will inspire a lot of women to get early mammograms that may well save some lives.

This post is to thank her and encourage my own readers to tweet her some words of support as she continues the fight. Her Twitter handle is @xenijardin. Thanks.

The Most Important Book Ever Written About Sharon Tate And The Manson Murders

I’m reading a book called “Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice,” written by Tate family friend Alisa Statman and Brie Tate, niece of Sharon Tate. It may well be the most important book written on the Manson case.

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The simple reason is that it captures a family’s grief and struggle to move on — something all our families have dealt with in various forms.

Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family's Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for JusticeI’ve written a lot here about my interest in the Manson case. This past November, I drove to the Tate and LaBianca murder sites during a trip to L.A. The story tapped into my fearful side at a young age, when Channel 56 played the two-part “Helter Skelter” movie every year. But until I downloaded this book onto my Kindle, I never truly appreciated what the Tate family has been through all these years.

I knew Sharon’s mother, Doris Tate, was a tireless victim’s rights advocate up to her death in 1992 and that her daughter Patti (Brie Tate’s mother) carried the torch until her death from cancer in 2000.

The Tate family has spent the last 42-plus years living with its tragic ties to criminal history. The book is a collection of narratives written by Doris, Patti, and P.J. Tate (Sharon’s father).

P.J. writes about having to go to the Cielo Drive house shortly after the murders to clean up all the blood and collect his daughter’s things. Patti writes about her struggle to hide from the prying world and live in quiet, only to have her family history come back to haunt her every time.

You see how Doris emerged after a decade of mourning to become a tireless fighter for victim’s rights, prison reforms and keeping her daughter’s killers in prison. You see P.J. and Patti getting upset with Doris again and again for keeping the family in the spotlight through her work. The wreckage of their lives includes all the usual tormentors: addiction, gut-shredding guilt, fear and anxiety. You see them learning to live again and finding purpose.

It’s the ultimate story of battling adversity.

I wish this book had come out before my L.A. trip, because I would have looked at those murder sites with a different set of eyes.

The Manson case has been a source of obsession for many, many people over the years. There’s the natural curiosity about what drives human beings to kill. There’s the horror and blood aspect that sucks people in. But what often gets lost is what kind of people the victims were, and what happens to those they unwillingly leave behind.

This book is all about the latter. That’s why I think it’s so important.

I think Brie Tate did her family proud with this work. I look forward to seeing what she does in the future.

The gates to the property where Sharon Tate and four others were murdered. I took the picture during a recent trip to L.A.

Sorry, But You’re Wrong

I got a lot of response to yesterday’s post about possibly killing this blog (Thanks for all the support!). Everyone asked that I continue, but supported my idea of expanding the topics.

I still have decisions to make, but y’all gave me some great ideas on how to take this forward.

I did get one message to the contrary, though. And because I disagree with the writer’s point, I’m going to share it with you. I’ll keep the person’s name out of it, of course.

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The writer said:

All I will say is that a blog like this is probably not doing you any favors.

When you know a person for business purposes, you dont want to know about their psychological disorders. If you want an extension of our writing, great. But a blog titled like this makes people who know nothing about you have predisposed notions that there would be something off about you.

That could be ignorance on their part, but why put something out there that is otherwise none of their business, when it shouldnt be an issue in dealing with you?

Blogs like this have got people denied jobs and all. Ignorance? Probably. But either way, how does a blog named for this subject otherwise help you? I cant see a single way it would unless you want to prove the ADA should apply to you.

My thoughts:

–I don’t write this blog for favors, and certainly not for sympathy votes. I write it because good people have been screwed over because of the stigma, which you actually describe quite well. I reached a point in my life where speaking out and sharing what I’ve learned was more important than what people might think of me.

–I knew I was taking a risk when I started this. Fortunately, everyone I work with supports me. The simple reason is that I proved my worth long before I came out with these stories.

–You’re absolutely wrong to say no one wants to know about this stuff. Within days of starting the blog, the vast majority of feedback came from people in the security community who have their own demons and were grateful that someone was talking about theirs. Depression, anxiety and addiction run deep in our community, and when people have a place to talk about it and find ways forward, it makes them better contributors to the industry, does it not? I think it does. By the way, a lot of the folks I speak of are in upper-level jobs — the kind you do business with.

–Part of doing this blog is to help people see that they need not be held back by adversity. That too is good for our community.

–I do agree that I risk being viewed only through the prism of what I write about. That’s why I’m considering changes. But that change isn’t going to be to reverse course. I continue to believe openness is the best approach.

Thanks for the feedback.

Autism And The ‘Hacker Disease’

I wrote a blog post in my work blog, Salted Hash, that’s worth mentioning here, since it fits the focus quite well.

Here’s the intro:

I’m fascinated by a report linking autism to hacker behavior. And the crazy thing is that I find the whole idea believable.

The Channel 4 report focuses on a 39-year-old named Dylan Wilson — diagnosed as a teenager with the form of autism known as Asperger Syndrome. Wilson describes how he has spent much of his life in his bedroom, preferring life in the online world to the world on the other side of the door. 

“People with Asperger Syndrome think logically, computers think the same. It’s like we think alike,” he told Channel 4. “You could say a dog is a man’s best friend: computers are our best friend.” 

You can read the rest here and, if you find it noteworthy, a retweet or Facebook share would be awesome. Thanks.

The Only Way Out Of The Fog Is Through It

We all go through it: Something upsets us so much that we go into a fog; unable to function when we’re still required to do so. It rises up like a brick wall.

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We smash into it a few too many times and go through the rest of the day dazed and confused. It’s a natural reaction to life’s more stressful and traumatic moments.

If a loved one is sick or dead, or you get into a huge fight with your spouse, or you just discover you’ve been robbed, the feeling hits you.

But what do you do when that feeling clings to you every day like a wet, filthy rag?

I’ve been there many times. It used to cripple me every day. It’s no longer a daily thing, but it still gets me on occasion.

Monday was one of those days; let’s just say it was driven by guilt.

But here’s the difference between now and the old days:

It didn’t incapacitate me and leave me lying half dead on the couch like it used to. I didn’t check out of the hotel of reality. I may have wanted to, but I didn’t.

I felt every bad feeling and it did stick in my brain all day like a splinter. But somehow, I was able to make it through the day. I got my work done, I got chores done and I was even able to focus on the not-always-easy task of helping Duncan do his homework.

I can point to a lot of things that make the difference today:

Medication to control my OCD, ADD and the depression that comes with it;

–Regular visits to the therapist to get things off my chest; and

–An eating program devoid of flour and sugar. When I’m not sinking under the weight of a food binge, my thinking is clearer.

I don’t think it’s possible to avoid the fog altogether. Life is too unpredictable and dramatic for that. Sometimes the stresses get the better of you and you lose sight of everything around you. It’s a very shitty place to be.

But there is a positive in this: If you never felt the fog, it would mean you didn’t care about anything or anyone.

You would see clearly and keep walking, but the destination would always be some selfish pursuit.

Some of this may sound a bit hyperbolic. I use some fancy language along the way to explain it.

But that’s how my brain rolls this morning.