Sometimes reality gives us a nice healthy punch in the face. And admittedly, I suppose I needed it. I suppose there’s a fine line between self-esteem and self-delusion, and if that line isn’t kept clear, often things can lose perspective.
I was interviewed on local television last week. It was supposed to be an interview based on an editorial I wrote and submitted to a website for publication; a fact-based editorial about the lack of justification for the “fear” of sex offenders on Halloween. The sole purpose was to point out that children are, for example, at a far greater danger of being hit by a car than being assaulted by a sex offender while trick-or-treating (since the former happens multiple times every year and the latter has, well, never happened). But when the piece aired, it took a whole other turn. My name and face weren’t used in the interview, but the reporter gave enough details about my crime that a mere Google search easily revealed who I was. And suddenly, the public feedback on the issue wasn’t about the issue or the statistics or the facts. It was about me. And then, I was reliving the hate-filled online comments from people, just as they’d been posted after my original arrest in 2012.
I don’t use Facebook. But my wife does, and she read me the comments being left by people on the news station’s Facebook page. It was horrendous. It always baffles me how ruthless these Christian Midwesterners can be when they really want to be. But the thing is, with all the hate that they were posting, in many ways, I had trouble disagreeing with any of their comments. Because with all the things being said, when I think back to the kind of horrid human being I was during the height of my sexual addiction, their assessments were, for the most part, accurate. (The glaring exception being that I never carried any sort of “attraction” to high school girls or anything of the sort. I was having so many affairs with so many women – teachers – that I simply lost all sense of boundaries).
It was three years ago today that I was sent to prison, and I’ve been home for almost a year. Since coming home, I’ve been surrounded by people who have been so loving and supportive of me that I’ve lost a little bit of perspective. So I suppose I needed this reality check. I needed to be reminded how terrible my crime really was. In prison, during my therapy stint in Lansing, when I told my therapy group (of other offenders) what I did, the reaction I got was, “That’s it?” I sat around a table every day for five months with a guy who raped his eight-year-old daughter, another guy who made his thirteen-year-old daughter give him a blowjob in exchange for prepaid cell phone minutes, another guy who gave his eleven-year-old granddaughter oral sex, and yet another guy who gave a handjob to his buddy’s ten-year-old son. So it was difficult not to walk away from that with a sense of, “Well, at least I’m not those sickos.”
But hearing those comments on Facebook, especially being read in the voice of my wife, hit me like a speeding city bus. Every sense of, “Well, I’m not that bad,” vanished like a gray cloud of exhaust fumes in the cold winter wind, and I was left with the brutal honesty of what I’d done. And, in all reality, I needed it. I needed to be reminded that perhaps the comparative spectrum is meaningless.
I was out-of-place for another reason in my therapy group in Lansing. I sat down with the, “Yes, I am guilty,” perspective. Half the guys in the group still denied their crimes, even after spending three, four, five, even ten years in prison. But regardless of that, being willing to admit guilt and accept treatment was a positive step for me, but it did not alleviate the severity or pain of my crime; and in my mind I think I thought it did. I was very wrong. So many people have told me that the best thing I can do is to move forward and live a better life as a better person, which I am. It never gets old hearing people tell me about how I’m nothing like the person I was, about how I seem like such a better person – and it’s great that they notice. I’ve worked hard to shed the cloak of the piece-of-shit human being that I was for so many years. And not being that person is so freeing. However, it still doesn’t change the terrible things I’ve done in the past. And that is sometimes nearly impossible to deal with.
Hearing my wife read those comments from people who clearly don’t understand how much I’ve changed was painful, but it was also humbling. I needed that reminder that I can’t move forward thinking I’m completely different, because this will always be a weight I will carry. I hate it when people talk about forgetting the past because it can’t be changed; those people don’t have to carry their past in the same bag as their present. I do – I deserve to – and that will never change.
My recent reality check was much needed, and although those who posted their hateful comments weren’t trying to be beneficial to me, they certainly were. I needed to regain my perspective – I needed to again notice the scope of my crime and stop minimizing what I did, especially in comparison to the offenders in my Lansing therapy group. I am blessed with a family who supports me as well as a parole officer and parole therapist who are willing to be honest with me. Maybe I’ll ask them to reality-check me a little more. I have not had a difficult time during my release and my support system (both family and the parole staff) have given me the tools and sustenance to continue living the life I need to live. At this very moment, I am the best possible version of myself, and with every lesson learned – and with every new reality-check – I continue to grow as a husband, a father, and as a person.
Now all I have to do is convince my in-laws. We’ll see how that goes…