Limited Bandwidth

As 2021 comes to a close, a lesson that I’ve been repeatedly reminded of is the danger of committing to too many things at one time.

Most of us are familiar with the scenario: we say yes to that first request and it is totally doable… and then we say yes to the next thing that comes up… and the next, and the next. Pretty soon, we have a completely booked week, zero time to ourselves, and all of a sudden, it feels like we have two full time jobs and the mental capacity of a dog in a forest with too many squirrels.

For the longest time, people pleasing was what prevented me from saying no to things. Later on, it was a fear of failure and the desire to keep my options as plentiful as possible. But just like the saying about being “a jack of all trades and a master of none,” states, if you attempt to half heartedly commit to everything that comes your way, you end up exhausted and unable to do anything well.

I’ve written about boundaries and saying “no” before, but my heart behind sharing today, is to hopefully encourage those of you who repeatedly feel overextended and exhausted from a life that seems more like an automated and accelerating hamster wheel than a journey to be enjoyed.

One of the first things I mentioned to my therapist was this very analogy about how I felt like a hamster that was running to keep up with this wheel only to get thrown out of the wheel disoriented and exhausted.

Her response was ironically, adding MORE life giving activities into my schedule, BUT with the qualifier of eliminating some life-draining activities at the same time.

Over the next few years, my perspective on self-care went from impulse buying a Nintendo Switch and binging escape rooms to carving out time in my days to intentionally care for myself. From running to basketball, writing regularly to quality time with friends, I began to incorporate a rhythm of prioritizing myself in my own life.

I stopped being the first to jump at volunteer opportunities.

I stopped feeling like every phone call and text message REQUIRED an immediate response.

I started sitting in my own discomfort at being alone in order to give myself space to process everything that I was feeling.

I started drawing my boundaries in my work environment and then for the hard part, I began to enforce those boundaries.

I pissed people off in the process as I began to say no to outrageous requests that I had been more than happy to oblige in the past. In the process, I began to love the time I got to spend alone, and this ENFP began to realize that he was a blend of introversion and extroversion.

Most app games that exist nowadays force you to manage some sort of limited resource. Maybe it’s speedups or gems or gold or food or candy crush hints. Whatever it might be, we gravitate towards challenges that force us to work within constraints.

Our lives are filled with choices and opportunity costs: decisions where choosing one thing means losing out on something else.

Some of us think that we are above these rules of limited time and resources and we try to have it all.

We end up tired, at wit’s end, and it is in those situations of fatigue that we make our poorest decisions, all because we neglected taking care of ourselves.

We think self care is eating out, manicures, video game binges, and shopping sprees. We generally know that certain coping mechanisms are actually negative, but they let us borrow tomorrow’s happiness and so in order to deal with the disappointment of today, we gladly borrow, though we pay with interest.

We self medicate with trips and shows and fantasies in order to take our minds off of the lack of agency we have in our own lives.

And even if we are self-destructing, at least we are making the choice ourselves.

A key tenet behind why I write and advocate so heavily for the issues that I do, is because I genuinely want people to operate at the best versions of themselves.

I often look back on my life and wish that I knew about the resources that I know about now, back when I was struggling to be comfortable in my own skin. I would have rather swallowed my pride, done the personal work, BEFORE I made my poor choices.

Unfortunately or fortunately, I learn best from experience, and so for me a lot of lessons were learned in hindsight. But for anyone who reads, I hope that you know that you deserve to be seen, heard, and understood, and that tools to help you navigate life’s more challenging seasons exist.

We oftentimes come up with excuses and like to play victim cards because it means that we don’t have full control or responsibility for what we do, but the truth is, in doing so, we only hurt and hinder ourselves.

I was homeschooled until high school and so my mom had the answer key to my math textbook. I used to open the answer book when she wasn’t looking and copy the work into my homework. I’d get full credit, but when asked to explain what I was doing, it was clear that I had no clue. My parents would scold me and tell me that “I was only hurting myself” by looking at the answers, but I saw my short term victories as a worthwhile exchange to spending hours trying to understand what was actually going on. This would come back to bite me in the ass later on when I went to public school and college, but that behavior was what started my habit of looking for shortcuts to deal with the day to day stress instead of preparing myself for the long term.

The truth is, most of us are like young Paul.

We see the day to day stress and anxiety, and we self medicate with reactive coping mechanisms that only temporarily distract us. We rationalize our behavior with our age, our finances, or our ability to “generally stay in control,” all the while knowing that we are lying through our teeth. We playact that we have our shit together, but at 3am when it’s just us and the negative self talk dialoguing, we realize that we are deeply frustrated with ourselves and where we deserve and need grace, the same coping mechanisms that provided us temporary distraction are used by us to shame ourselves and thus perpetuate the cycle.

Oof, did I just lose you?

Can we talk plainly for a second?

Our culture is obsessed with perfection and having your shit together. I can be anything as long as no one knows that I actually don’t have it all together.

We post the pictures of the parties, the promotions, the trips, the friends, the weddings, and anything that might get those likes, but we archive or don’t post about the break ups, the unemployment, the mental health struggles, addictions, and all those other imperfections we don’t want others to see.

Now while lying for the sake of our online reputations is one thing, the primary talking point of this blog is, why we lie to ourselves about our own growth points when really it is us that benefits or suffers based upon our action or inaction?

I think of this scene in the Zac Efron acted Ted Bundy Netflix film where, Ted goes to the courtroom and sees that the courthouse library window is a certain height above the courtyard outside. We then see a montage of him in his cell practicing landing after jumping from higher and higher distances. Eventually he jumps off of his bunk mate’s bed and lands safely, after which, the audience sees a shot of him making the courthouse library jump.

This example is SO FUCKING random, but I think it’s an interesting take on self-care and personal work.

We really do each have within us, the capacity to face the difficulties that life presents with us. It requires time and practice to figure out how to deal with our challenges, but we do have the potential to grow. But unlike Mr. Bundy, we’d rather observe the window of opportunity and worry about the risk and then forget about it rather than doing the work of preparing for our escape.

We all have limited bandwidth when it comes to the activities and passions that we can devote ourselves to. On top of this, life is short, and we never know how much time we are going to get. I’m reminded of how short life is every day.

Even with our limited resources, I invite you to invest in yourself above everything and everyone else.

To some of you this might feel foreign or selfish, but I promise you, that while all other relationships and friendships have times when they are unavailable to you, your own self dialogue is ALWAYS going to be your biggest ally or enemy. This reality behooves us to invest in ourselves and to learn to love ourselves in our strengths and weaknesses… because when it comes down to it, no one else is going to magically care for us if we don’t care for ourselves.

I spent years trying to fix myself through self work and therapy so that I could be present for those around me.

About halfway through, I realized, that the biggest goal was and always will be to learn to love myself.

The Art of Deconstruction

An acquaintance asked me the other day, “Paul, what do you even believe any more? Do you still believe in God? Are you even Christian?”

I’ve written a lot about therapy, pornography, purpose, and how race has affected my experience as a U.S. citizen. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m often writing little blurbs about everything from toxic masculinity to finding your purpose. If we are connected on Facebook, you have probably noticed that I post almost exclusively about the harms of pornography which is a stark contrast from the Bible-verse-trigger-happy high school graduate from ten years ago.

There’s been a lot of trauma, a lot of work, a lot of wylin’ out, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that has led me to this point in time.

As much as I’d like to think that I’m so unique, I’m about 80% sure that my experiences, questions, and confusion are shared by many of you.

For those of you who would consider yourself 100% grounded in your faith and religion, I’d ask for grace, but also encourage you to hear me out as I try to explain where a lot of my doubts and cynicism originated from.

For those of you who are in the same boat, you aren’t alone, and I see you.

For those of you who don’t believe in God any more, you aren’t alone either and I see you too.

This is: the art of deconstruction.


To properly understand my journey, you should know that I was practically born into church. I was homeschooled until high school, took classes on theology, read the biographies of missionaries, and surrounded myself with friends who shared the same religious views.

I went to a Foursquare church in Van Nuys for the first thirteen years of my life. During my time there, I was encouraged and inspired by so many individuals who volunteered their time and resources to teach Sunday school. I remember fondly, this one black family taking the 11am slot to teach fourth grade sunday school and I especially remember them incentivizing memorizing a whole chapter of the Bible by giving an entire Little Ceasar’s Pizza to any kids who could. There was also teacher April who organized the Vacation Bible School and invited me to join the dance team as an elementary school teacher. I remember pastor Bob at Highway 56 sticking around later when my parents were late to picking me up. I remember pastor Brian at Rock Solid keeping us middle schoolers busy at the Jr. High summer internship.

Most of my memories are positive and most of them I cherish and remember fondly.

In high school, I started going to a new church in San Diego, and I remember pastors, Josh and Greg creating a safe space for us high schoolers. I remember Matt investing time and energy into making sure I was not just blindly following sermon talking points. I remember Frank treating me like an adult and not a project as he burned worship cds for me. I memorized scripture, listened to Christian Contemporary Music, and probably annoyed the living crap out of my non-Christian friends.

I’m pretty sure I broke up with a girl one time citing God as a reason..

I wrote entire posts on Tumblr devoted to my interpretation of scripture. My mother watched Fox News and I was convinced that being Christian was synonymous with being a Republican.

I knew the verses and the messages about grace and love, but I never stopped and listened to anyone who had a different life experience than I did.

I used to give mini-sermons at Christian club where I just copied the styles and themes that I had seen modeled for me in church.

If you are reading this, and we knew each other back then, this is my formal apology.

I am so sorry if you ever felt judged or shamed by the things that I said. Things that I, a flawed human, asserted that God said about you. Whether it was my blatant disregard for your emotions or my gaslighting and steamrolling of your worldviews, I am so sorry that I caused you pain.

In college, the cracks in my self righteousness began to show. I volunteered my time in my college fellowship, took calculated small steps of vulnerability in controlled situations, and pretended like everything was okay. My closeted addictions started coming out and by the time I graduated, I was full on tripping.

The Cynical Prodigal Son:

I remember going to Mexico City for the first time after I graduated from college and rationalizing to myself that my secret porn habit couldn’t actually be contributing to ruining the lives of real people.

Deep down, I knew I was lying to myself, and so I said that I cared about anti-trafficking efforts, but I quickly forgot everything I saw and experienced.

As I wrestled with my own sexuality and addictions, I became angry. I didn’t know what spurred the anger because I had never done the hard work of naming my emotions. I became frustrated and criticized the church for the needs I saw that it wasn’t addressing.

It was easier for me to blame the church for over-preaching about tithing and under-preaching about mental health and addictions because that meant that my problems weren’t my fault.

I stopped going to church, and lost the one thing I thought I’d always have: my integrity.

I was so confused.

For my whole life I knew that there was a “right” way to be a Christian. Christians didn’t sleep around, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, didn’t curse, voted yes on Prop 8, and volunteered as much time as possible at church.

But despite knowing that this was the “right” way to to do things, I knew that I was not actually adhering to the full letter of the law.

When I wasn’t at church I was cursing, experimenting, and let’s not forget, watching a SHIT ton of porn.

I felt like a fraud at church because I was.

Yeah, I had read the whole Bible.

Yes I had been to small groups and retreats.

Yes I had been on mission trips.

But there was this huge cognitive dissonance between who I was supposed to be and who I was.

After you attempt to quit porn after a church retreat for like the third time, you start asking some questions about whether or not something is wrong with you.

Toxic Church CULTure:

If you’ve gone to church, tell me if this sounds familiar:

The pastor talks about how everyone needs grace, and then some people at church look straight at you and when it’s time to pray for each other, nobody says jack shit about anything more than “work has been tough.”

At first, you think wow, everyone here has their shit together. I aspire to be this level of holy.

But as you spend more and more time there, you come to a shocking discovery: At ANY church, charismatic or conservative, expository or theme-based sermons, Hillsong worship songs or hymns, people are seriously fucked up.

Marriages are falling apart, addictions are out of control, mental health is a huge issue, volunteers are being abused, affairs are happening on the worship team, tithe money has gone missing, pastors are arguing and causing church splits, and it turns out, that some of the biggest assholes and abusers are churchgoers.

Then, depending on your level of self-awareness, you begin to realize that you are actually a part of the problem.

I remember realizing that I despised the fact that no one was talking about pornography, depression, and suicidal ideation in church. At one lunch with my mother, I asked her WHY the church was so silent on issues that I KNEW were relevant. She just sat with me and heard me out.

I kept criticizing and SLAMMING the church for what it wasn’t doing to make the world a better place. I thought it was ridiculous that churchgoers didn’t act like Jesus did in the New Testament, but it never occurred to me that perhaps I had a part to play in this.

A Perfect Storm:

In 2019, after about a year of therapy and processing my emotions, I realized that I had a lot of work to do on myself in order to not project all my baggage onto my friends, family, and significant other.

An incident, in which my pornography addiction wreaked even more havoc in my day to day life, led me to start aggressively targeting the root cause of my habit in therapy as well.

As I processed my emotions and sat with them for the first time in 25-26 years, I began to see the depth of my own pain and brokenness. And as my therapist validated me and told me that I wasn’t alone, I realized this fundamental need I had to be seen and heard.

It was as this was happening, that I realized that I had not felt seen or heard in really any of my circles except for a handful of scenarios.

My best friend, Imon who sat with me through all of the shit I had been processing even outside of the context of religious camaraderie.

My college pastor and friend, Abe who hugged me after I revealed that I didn’t think I could be a college small group leader because of my porn addiction.

My friend, Crystal who allowed me to sit in post travel and job hating depression because she too was experiencing it.

This concept of sitting with people as they were processing their emotions would end up being the missing piece that helped me tie together everything that I had been experiencing.

For the first time ever, I was allowing myself to be angry, sad, tired, cynical, happy, excited, depressed, worried, doubtful, anxious, heartbroken, worried, and a whole slew of other emotions without shaming myself into putting “faith in God.”

And while my Christian readers are waiting for the other shoe to drop as I say that therapy has led me away from God and into the ever waiting socialist arms of the far left, I have a surprise for you:

God showed up in my therapy sessions uninvited.

As I transitioned from talk therapy to EMDR therapy, my sessions began to tackle really traumatic memories in which I felt truly alone, violated, or damaged. And even though my therapist said nothing about God and I didn’t explicitly invite God into that space, He freaking showed up there in the middle of my deepest pain.

It was at this moment, that I realized the importance of being present during the painful seasons of those in our community. I think of Jesus mourning Lazarus, the disciples falling asleep as Jesus prays at Gethsemane, and the Holy Spirit descending in the upper room.

But hold up, I’m not done yet.

20 Fucking 20:

In the biggest plot twist of our modern day lives, 2020 came and screwed us all over. Whether you were a small business owner, a stay at home mom, a church goer, a food service worker, it really didn’t matter, we all were affected.

We had BLM in the streets protesting injustice. We had a freaking virus running crazy. Trump was re-running for office. Asians were being targeted in public.

I don’t even need to write you about this, you all ALREADY fucking know. 2020 was a cluster show.

It was at this critical point in history, that my faith in the church was shaken to its core.

While my faith in God was just recently reinvigorated, the marriage of christianity and politics that 2020 brought forth absolutely destroyed me.

One day, I’d be playing basketball at a park while being aggressively approached by a racist security guard only to hear from the pulpit that BLM wasn’t a Biblically founded movement. I’d grown up hearing about how Jesus spoke in parables where the heroes of the stories were marginalized immigrants, while my old church friends were lauding ICE and wall building as practically Christian endeavors. I’d learned as a child that loving your neighbor as yourself was second only to loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, but then people were raving that masks and vaccines were inherently unchristian or worse yet the mark of the beast.

We were taught as children in Sunday school that we had a personal relationship with Jesus, but then all of a sudden, there was this HUGE push that God HAD to have us meet in person.

It was like everything was moving and changing and contradicting itself.

My heart sank as past mentors and pastors openly decried governmental mandates and went so far as to assert that being Christian meant defying laws designed to protect us. Nonchalant and cavalier comparisons to the persecution of Christians in other times and countries were liberally used by conservatives. AND THEN, just when things couldn’t get any worse, having views that weren’t as conservative became being anti-God.

All of a sudden the LITERAL depiction of loving your neighbor became rebranded as being socialist.


A Search For Doers:

As I sat with my dad at the breakfast table one morning in 2020, I shared with him how I was so discouraged and confused about my convictions on what the church should be. I asked him where the heroes were and who was actually doing what Jesus had commanded us to do in the Bible: loving God and loving people.

He didn’t have an answer, but he said that he would pray that I would find more of these heroes.

In the span of a year and a half, I was given the immense privilege of partnering with Fight the New Drug, my friend Calista referred me to join Clubhouse, I met Victoria on Clubhouse and was able to share my story on the Trafficked Truth podcast, and my friends Tina and Randy shared their story with me and hosted me on my longest stint in Mexico City yet.

In the face of the question: Where are the heroes who are doing Kingdom work, the answer came in the the form of El Pozo de Vida, 27Million, and new friends who have been doing Kingdom work in their respective areas of expertise.

Where I am:

It’s weird when you look back on the past few years and realize that the majority of the people who have been the best representations of God’s grace, acceptance, and character weren’t even churchgoers.

I have immense gratitude for my supportive family, my ride or die friends new and old, and for the organizations that have given me the privilege of partnering with them.

It’s interesting how I learned empathy, shameless acceptance, and recovery from sources that weren’t explicitly citing scripture or throwing “Kingdom principles” at me. All of these aforementioned traits are traits that the Bible teaches us that we should exhibit, and yet, as a Christian I admit, we have failed as a body to grow these character traits.

It might make some of you uncomfortable that I don’t quote scripture in my facebook posts every week anymore or that I curse when I write my blogs. It might be disconcerting to know that not all the organizations that I partner with have Jesus explicitly in their mission statements.

But that is just the point: I’m done playacting that I’ve got my shit together.

Never in my life, have I cared less about what people think about my motives or intentions, because I know what they are for one of the first times in my life.

I’d rather be congruent and consistent in who I am and who God has created me to be, than pretending to be someone who I am not.

It doesn’t help me or anyone else if I bury my struggles and pain and pretend that cliches and quotes are what can change lives and the world.

Our world is so fucking messed up, and we need to be on the frontlines addressing the needs, not just criticizing other doers from our high horses of self righteousness.

I honestly think that God created us to be innovative and creative in our problem solving approaches and part of that is trusting that God has given us the tools and gifts that we need to get the job done.

Maybe as a collective body, we as the church need to do a better job of leading with actions rather than words..

Maybe God isn’t so keen on our “defenses of the faith” on facebook so much as he is looking for our actions that display His love to those who need it.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a aman who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:19-27

Have we focused too much on the very last phrase, fixating on spotlessness, while disregarding everything that came before it?

Is the pinnacle of our lives as Christians arguing about vaccines and the mark of the beast or is it going and doing as Jesus commanded: loving God and loving others?

Welcome to the Club

Fairly recently I started speaking and writing about the less than glamorous parts of my life.

In our cancel culture, I believe this could be misconstrued as a sort of brash arrogance on speaking about my own shortcomings.

I was actually inspired, to begin peeling away the filters I put over myself on social media, by a lyric that Andy Mineo wrote.

In his track “Honest 2 God,” Andy pens the line:

“We post pictures of the party, but not the ones throwing up at the end”

A common theme in Andy’s work is the importance of authenticity and honesty in one’s day to day life.

As a young person growing up within the context of homeschooling and church, I always believed that I either had to have all my shit together or admit that I was a failure.

There was no space for mistakes, and character flaws were promptly punished and behavior modifications were constantly being applied.

I learned the “correct” things to say, the appropriate behavior to engage in, and the activities to avoid.

From the outside, I was mild mannered and well behaved. Internally though, and to those closest to me, I was a powder keg waiting to explode.

I had a conversation with Imon the other day about how we define trauma and how we can trace the effects of our past trauma to today. We spoke candidly about how some of us have “relatively” less traumatic lives.

It was in this conversation that I was reminded of a conversation that I had with Crystal. In that conversation, we were discussing how it is important for us to validate our own emotions and frustration as we process through our pain.

To anyone who goes to therapy, we know that self validation is the bread and butter that leads to growth and healing, but to an outsider, self-validation seems inherently selfish.

We play the comparison game and we sympathize and pity those with “greater” trauma.

In reality, self-validation does not exalt your struggles over the struggles of others. In fact, self-validation just gives you permission to feel how you feel and to heal what has been broken.

When we give ourselves permission to be angry, sad, hopeful, anxious, frustrated, excited, happy, etc., we acknowledge that we are human and that we are worthy of love and acceptance even amidst the less than glamorous facets of our personalities.

The last year has been a whirlwind of activity.

I went from thinking I was going to travel a whole bunch more and perhaps move to Mexico City to facing the harsh reality of the quarantine.

Despite the change of plan, the year was incredibly eventful.

From a random email response from Andy Mineo regarding perfectionism and creativity, to a surprise video project where I had to learn Adobe Premiere. There was also the random video interview I did with Fight the New Drug talking about my journey over the last few years. As I was dealing with the mental and emotional effects of detoxing from porn, I was in a class where I was learning how to get out of debt and save. I was hitting up friends to do “No Porn November” with me while learning how to cope in more sustainable and healthy ways. I was invited onto the Clubhouse app, and found other anti human trafficking advocates who I shared my story with and I got invited onto a podcast and was asked to share my experiences with a lady’s thirteen year old son.

On the flip side: I had a handful of mental breakdowns last year and relied heavily on Imon to take detox trips with me into nature to calm the heck down. I struggled with anxiety as the covid crisis rose to a fever pitch and AAPI were targeted and treated with aggression. I had several bouts of depression as the institution of church abused its power and asserted that man knew what God’s will was. I went on a porn bender after the quarantine initially started and I struggled to put the bottle of alcohol down.

Amidst all the amazing things that were happening, I felt trapped and stuck. I didn’t feel like I was moving the needle and I didn’t feel like I was where I was supposed to be.

So I did the only thing I really knew how to do and I just started writing about everything I was feeling.

I went from only talking about porn with my therapist and closest friends to blogging about it and then going full blast advocating against it.

An addiction that was a source of shame and guilt for years started dissolving once I began talking about it.

I started addressing depression, anxiety, doubt, frustration, therapy, and my various addictions and vices in my blogs.

The churchboy facade started fracturing and I became less compartamentalized. Strangely enough, as I questioned the motives and actions of the church, I felt God nudging me to continue to deconstruct further.

As I wrestled with the church’s inaction and silence on matters that I thought needed to be discussed, I felt led to speak into those areas where there was only deafening silence.

My friend Cheyenne in Mexico City encouraged me that “Our greatest weaknesses are often what God uses… our struggles give us authority”

Clubhouse is an app that allows users to basically host Ted Talks on any issue they desire.

Rooms range from discussions with Elon Musk, to mental health, and everything in between.

When I got on the app in February, I quickly was serendipitously connected with anti- human trafficking advocates, mental health advocates, creatives, and old friends in far off places.

The free form nature of the rooms I joined quickly revealed to me, that what I had believed to be unique stories and experiences for myself were in fact the stories and experiences of many.

Rarely have I felt so validated by complete strangers, but with little to no space to customize one’s profile, users were forced to simply rely on their stories and anecdotes to paint a picture of who they were. And for people who were looking to connect with organizations and individuals doing specific work in specific areas, Clubhouse provided a unique opportunity.

It was on this app that I met Victoria who runs a safehouse and a podcast for human trafficking survivors. As I shared my FTND interview experience and my desire to get more involved in the anti human trafficking and anti porn space, she was quick to validate and affirm me while thanking me for sharing. I distinctly remember her being a fiery advocate in her defense of survivors that were vulnerably sharing their experiences on Clubhouse. While some white and more privileged moderators steamrolled the stories of survivors, she made sure to affirm and give space to everyone who shared.

She was gracious enough to host me on her podcast and she is doing incredible work representing POC’s in the anti human trafficking space while also giving POC’s the space to share without taking advantage of their stories to push a hidden agenda.

Be sure to check out her podcast at this link and support her work if you feel led to do so!

In conclusion:

We often hide the ugliest parts of ourselves for fear of rejection.

When we hit rock bottom, often we feel alone and isolated and we believe the lie that we are the only ones to have gone through this.

Tobymac in his track “Stories,” models the song after a roundtable discussion in which people are sharing the shit they go through. One of the lines goes:

I’ve been there too

When everything falls apart and the best you can do is

Get through each day wonderin’ will this never end?

Is it always going to be this way?

And the greatest lie you’ve ever been told is that

You’re the only one to ever walk on this road

And that you’ll never see the light of dawn, so we came together to say

Hold on

Cause we’ve been there and found our way home

I promise you that you’re not on your own

One day this will pass, God will see us all through

God will see us all through, God will see us all pass through

What if the ugliest parts of your story need to see the light of day in order for you to heal?

And what if, your struggle and your pain and the isolation you felt when you went through hell was a nudge for you to provide encouragement to someone who is going through that now?

What if we posted not only the birthday parties, and the concerts, and the trip highlights?

What if we were honest about our trauma?

Our broken families.

Our broken hearts.

Our addictions that threaten to derail our lives.

Our doubts.

Our fears.

Our illnesses.

Our dysfunctionality.

Our brokenness.

What if when someone was honest about what was really going on in their lives we could answer with “I see you and I feel you. Welcome to the club”

Lessons From Therapy: Climate Change

Every tax season, I go through this weird couple of weeks where I get all depressed and think about my past year. So much happens each year and it’s honestly hard to remember the specifics of the year.

But luckily for us, our companies send us letters that put a dollar amount on the year: how much we earned, how much we were taxed, and for those of us who tend to be more pessimistic: what were we unable to do because we were working.

In a tug of war between remaining grateful and looking for greener pastures is where most of us reside. Our friends’ lives…. and their paychecks sometimes make us wish for something other than what we have. Yet, at the same time, what we have is what we know, and there is a comfort that comes with the familiar.

For one entire year, my job was so stressful that I used to spend hundreds of dollars every weekend doing 1-4 escape rooms and buying packages on Amazon to distract me. I used to work my main job in the afternoons and evenings, and I found a second job to work in the mornings just to have a little bit of extra income. And then, sometimes, when I thought I needed a vacation, I would go and work stints at a third job, where I would go to a different city and work insane hours….but I stayed in a hotel room so it counted as a vacation.

I was barely getting by financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically. But something long since ingrained in me, kept repeating in my head. “The diligent shall prosper,” a fantastic Bible quote, when paired with an ideology of works-based-worth is a fantastic way to run straight into a shit ton of problems.

Right in the middle of all of this, my adventurous friend, Crystal invited me to go on a trip to Turkey. It was a great trip, as that blogpost demonstrates, but when I came back, a lot of things started to become clear.

Sometimes, we need a jolt to our system to help us re-prioritize what is important to us. For too long I had buried dreams I considered to be dead. I felt trapped in a job where I was unable to do what was initially promised. I was running myself ragged with 40+ hour weeks, encouraged overtime, and the inability to use my time outside of my main job, for things that I was excited and passionate about.

When I talked with my therapist about my mental health and addictions shortly after that trip, I told her that one surprising fact was that in Turkey, my bad habits disappeared for a few weeks. We were trying to tackle my post-trip depression, and she made a note to re-visit what made Turkey so different than normal life.

The biggest difference we found was that while I was on vacation, my usual stressors, were no longer present. I was sleeping at regular hours for regular amounts of time while also eating three meals a day.

On top of this, because I was so disconnected from anything work related, my mind was free to revert to its normal creative self. I was filming as the trip was happening, writing in the evenings to reflect on what I was seeing, and I was having these super thought provoking conversations on a daily basis.

When we returned, it was like I hit this brick wall.

I tried to transform the positivity of the trip into sustainable energy for my day to day life, but everywhere I looked I faced walls that seeme to trap me.

I tried to start volunteering my time on weekends to get behind the camera more often, but my boss at the time had hired me specifically for Saturday evenings as well and any attempts to negotiate having certain Saturdays off was met with staunch resistance.

I tried to get back into a normal schedule with normal sleeping hours combined with a good diet, but my shifts were just too conducive to sleeping late and waking up late.

I tried to see if I could get more time in the evenings to spend with friends to perhaps emulate those thought provoking conversations, but again, I was met with resistance from the workplace.

There is perhaps no worse torture than being able to taste hope and then watching as your hope dies. It is soul crushing to become like Mr. Incredible who slowly watches as the mundaneness of normalcy overpowers the glory of the good old days.

After a few months of crippling depression, several therapy sessions, and numerous binges of negative coping mechanisms, I made the decision to leave the job that I was at.

It was the only job I was ever given the ability to manage other people and I felt like I owed a huge debt to everyone there. It was so hard to even think about having the conversation of leaving, and years of growing up on the concept of indebtedness and honor made it one of the most difficult decisions I ever made.

One of the greatest lies I believed was that “It can’t get better than it is here. There are problematic people and non-optimal work environments everywhere”

Now I’m not saying that we should all just leave our jobs that we hate while giving the middle finger to everyone who we believe wronged us. I firmly believe that there are lessons to be learned from every position we hold and from every boss we have. Some teach us how to be better people by modeling excellent behavior for us. Some teach us to how to be better people by modeling how not to act.

I grew up thinking that I had to work in a field that I was passionate about to be happy. Since film was what I loved, and it seemed like a hyper competitive field and an unrealistic pipe dream, I resigned myself to never being happy.

Recently and through therapy, I learned that your day job puts the food on the table, but those extra hours in the day are where you get to sandbox your creative dreams and passions. The hours between 17:00-9:00 are for us to really live.

You aspire to be a photographer? Bring your gear to work and shoot after.

You want to start a business? Set time aside to research your market and the need your product will fill.

You want to make movies? Then make some movies.

Andy Mineo told me in an email, that for us creatives, oftentimes we believe that in our social media saturated culture that we must produce perfect content. He encouraged me to make stuff even if it was terrible. Because we don’t magically become better without practice. Make the mistakes, learn from them, and get to a higher level.

Chick-fil-A was a great job, but it came to a point where I could not use my off time to pursue passion projects or broaden the skills I wanted to grow. Staying there and to have stayed there longer would have meant deferring my goals, aspirations, and skill development for an even longer period of time.

This deferment’s cost was directly correlated to my decreasing mental health and my relative unhappiness. We don’t all have the luxury of packing up our stuff and leaving today, but that’s not to say we can’t start charting our course to get the fuck out of wherever we are.

Gratefulness is important, but therapy taught me that knowing myself and what I want can help me prudently decide when it’s time for climate change.

If you have two seconds, if you can maybe fill out this survey regarding the “Lessons from Therapy” series I would greatly appreciate it!

Thanks for reading!

Lessons From Therapy: Learning to Cope

Years like 2020, have a way of bringing out the worst in all of us. With schedules and rituals disrupted, while daily comforts were stripped away, all of us turned to coping mechanisms to try and grasp onto some sort of comfort and normalcy.

I find it ironic that our high schools decided to put street names for illicit drugs in our health class curriculum, while choosing to leave out healthy behaviors and practices that would help us avoid coping via substances and addictions.

Thirteen years later, this is what I’ve learned about coping.

The Science Behind Coping and Happiness:

From a scientific level, there are three neurotransmitters and a hormone that are responsible for what we call happiness: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin. I would recommend a quick Google search to see what each of these four do.

Endorphins are released when your body is in pain thus explaining runner’s highs and overall euphoria after intense workouts.

Dopamine is most often associated with your body’s reward system but it also plays several other roles from retaining memory to motivation.

In a healthy individual, who relies on more natural ways of releasing Endorphins or Dopamine, the thresholds you must meet in order for your brain to release these neurotransmitters are much lower. Which in plain English means that there are sustainable behaviors and activities that make it easier for you to feel happy.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, negative coping mechanisms oftentimes release a SHIT ton of Dopamine at a severe and unsustainable cost to your body. Certain drugs, trick your brain into releasing much larger amounts of Dopamine than a natural activity would. This translates to an incredibly pleasurable high, but it also means that your brain becomes conditioned to only feeling happy when this unnaturally high threshold of Dopamine is met.

Outside of drugs, pornography which is generally combined with masturbation, when consumed in large quantities can achieve a similar effect. Basically, we are tricking our brains into releasing unnatural amounts of dopamine very frequently, which then builds our tolerance to Dopamine. Which means to reach the same high or level of happiness we need exponentially more Dopamine.

WHICH MEANS: negative coping mechanisms are identifiable by requiring exponentially more exposure or higher dosage to achieve the same level of a high.

This applies to a wide variety of drugs, pornography consumption, likes/interactions on social media, etc. If you are chasing an ever elusive oasis of satisfaction that requires more and more effort to attain, chances are, you are using a negative coping mechanism.

As a person, I am very anxious, very cynical, and I care way too much about what people think about me. Because of this, I am seldom happy. I’m constantly comparing myself to my married friends on social media, or the average 20-something year old that I met at a wedding once where we swapped Instagram handles. My old boss once said “comparison is the thief of all joy,” and they were on to something.

This comparison and anxiety is generally one of the biggest triggers for me to engage in negative coping mechanisms.

In 2020, shortly after the quarantine started, I went on a porn bender. We were stuck at home, my running shoes were worn out and so I couldn’t run without leg pain, and we were isolated from friends and family. One would think with a perfect storm like the pandemic/quarantine combo, my negative coping mechanism would spiral out of control and destroy me. Ironically, with nowhere else to go, I quickly discovered the inescapable fact that: porn left me lower than I was before I consumed it. In a world where I couldn’t see people and was trapped at home, the crushing loneliness that drove me to porn was only exacerbated by my consumption. In short, my problems were only magnified by using this coping mechanism.

When my birthday came around in the spring, I resolved that I was going to up my game and try to kick the habit yet again. I remember being three weeks in and being so hyped because life was different in very strange but tangible ways.

I remember getting lunch from one of my favorite restaurants while I was at work. As I opened the to-go box I got ridiculously excited and happy. As I took that first bite, I felt like Remy the rat discovering flavor composition for the first time. I literally was smiling ear to ear having a pretty darn close to orgasmic experience eating this spicy tuna bowl from Fukada.

I remember driving home from work and looking at the hills I was driving by and feeling the sun on my face and thinking to myself that it was such a beautiful day. Normal behavior for some I’m sure, but for me, the details were what were speaking to me.

I began to notice that writing and organizing my thoughts was easier. That reading and concentrating were not as touch and go. Music sounded better. My runner’s highs were comparable and much longer than highs I had experienced with edibles without the groggy feeling afterwards.

Basically, the little things were making me happy again. So weird. SO bizarre.

My therapist’s first task for me when I came into her office and shared my story almost three years ago, was for me to do the work of discovering what activities were life-giving for me. She encouraged me to incorporate those activities into my daily life in the form of self-care.

The lesson from therapy in this post is this: Discover or re-discover the lifegiving activities (aka positive coping mechanisms) that work for you personally before trying to get rid of the negative coping mechanisms.

I had tried for YEARS to kick my bad coping mechanisms, but it was never sustainable. It wasn’t until I had the “happiness comparison point” of incorporating running, playing videogames with friends, writing consistently, or creating videos on a more consistent basis that I began to feel the effects of things that made me happy without the laundry list of negative side effects that came with porn, drinking, or substances.

Now when faced with the choice of which coping mechanism to use I can compare the satisfaction level of the negative coping mechanisms versus the life-giving activities.

Now I’m not just trying abstain from doing something. Now I’m comparing and making an educated decision on what it is I want and choosing the behavior that best fits my end goal.

It is no easy task to walk away from the negative coping mechanisms that distract us into thinking we are happy. Oftentimes, we’ve come up with reasons as to why the negative coping mechanisms aren’t that bad.

“Porn can’t reject me”

“I’m not an addict, I’m not hurting anyone”

“I deserve this, I’ve had a shitty week, month, year”

My writing in the past has oftentimes come off as judgmental. But as someone who has looked for some sort of relief from the depressing realities of life in all kinds of terrible behaviors, I’ll be the first to tell you that there is a better and healthier way. Shame, guilt, and judgement really only serve to push us further into our entrenched behaviors.

My heart behind this mini series is that you would see some hope in your current situation. From someone who was screwing up his Dopamine reward system for 13 years, I hope that you know that it’s never too late to start taking steps towards a more satisfying and rich life.

This post would be quite pointless without some application so really quickly:

  1. Take five minutes and write down some activities that you enjoy or have enjoyed in the past before life got “too busy” for them. Painting, working out, maybe something social, writing, sketching, building something, etc.
  2. Find a way to incorporate bite sized increments of this activity into your life. Get as close to daily as possible even if the time increments are small. Maybe 15-20 mins a day. You’ll want activities that are sustainable both financially and socially so that you can easily repeat them. Take note of how they make you feel before and after you complete them.
  3. Once you have 2-3 activities that you have to choose from and you have implemented maybe one a day for a while and it seems sustainable, take a break from one of your negative coping mechanisms that you think is the most often used. I suggest a month, but even a week to two weeks is enough to start noticing a difference.
  4. Document your experience. With the inclusion of the life-giving activities in your daily life, abstaining from the negative coping mechanism should become easier as there isn’t just a hole where the negative coping mechanism was. The duration of time you choose will begin to rewire the neurological pathways in your brain associated with Dopamine release and “rewards” that your brain gives you. The combination of the two, should result in a gradual re-normalization of a healthy amount of dopamine being released even when you are doing simple life-giving things.

Our individual journeys are so unique and so we are each both the scientist and the test subject. What works for one may not work for someone else, and so we have to be both creative and resilient as we experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

Imagine a life where we aren’t addicted to the red notifications, the late night website binges, and the hits from our vapes.

More than that, imagine a life where colors are more vivid, the days are more awe inspiring, and the little things like food or time spent with loved ones are more vibrant and exciting.

It isn’t a pipe dream. And more often than not, we have the power to walk towards healthiness as we are all learning to cope.

If you have two seconds, if you can maybe fill out this survey regarding the “Lessons from Therapy” series I would greatly appreciate it!

Lessons From Therapy: You Aren’t Crazy

“You are like me. You get really emotional and you feel these super high highs and these super low lows. It’s very unprofessional.”

I have this tendency to get especially heated when I see unfair treatment and double standards in the workplace and in different social circles.

My boss said this line to me after I reacted negatively to him having a tantrum at work. In his frustration at an inefficient supply chain, he misdirected his anger and correction at the wrong arm of his organization. In my anger, I shut down and began to work at a frenzied pace to demonstrate that our arm was not the issue. He knew I was angry, and he knew I was protesting his own emotional unhinging. But he saved his comments for a private meeting we had later that week.

After having some time to cool off, he said this to me, and I genuinely wondered how I could become more professional since having temper tantrums at work is generally a sure way to get the boot.

I responded, “I agree that we are similar, but can I ask you a question? What strategies have you used to manage your emotions and temper at work?”

“Well I would ask your doctor first. But Prozac ‘works’ for me.”

(Note: I have nothing against medication, and I think that it is a very real solution for some of us and that is totally okay. However, in the context of my professional relationship, this was not an appropriate response. )

The situation might be slightly different, and maybe the boss is a parent, a significant other, or a friend, but we all have these moments where people either directly or indirectly say that we are too much or simply put: crazy.

“Stop being so emotional!”

“Why are you like this?”

“Stop making a scene!”

“You are being unprofessional”

“You should get help.”

By far, the most important lesson I have learned in therapy thus far has been that your emotions and the way that you are saddened, angered, drained, or frustrated, are valid.

I thought that therapy was going to be me paying a person to tell me how to “fix” me.

“Tell me about your childhood. How does that make you feel?”

In actuality, my therapy sessions are often me telling these stories and my therapist responding with something like:

“Wow. What an asshole?! He sounds super difficult to work with! It’s ironic that he’s telling you that you are too emotional when it’s his mismanagement of his own emotions that triggered your frustration.”

Some of us go through life and we speak our minds all of the time. It comes naturally and we do not take aggression or insults sitting down. We’ll fire back with as much tenacity as we were attacked with.

Others of us do our best to keep the peace. We get hurt by people and we get frustrated, but we play devil’s advocate as much as we can. We care SO much about where the other person is coming from and what experiences are informing the inflammatory behavior of those we interact with.

Before therapy, I believed it was impossible to both validate my own feelings and those of others when we were in conflict. I hated conflict and I hated disruptions to the peace. I always preferred just “sucking it up” in order to keep the peace rather than causing any sort of drama.

Of course my frustration and anger had to go somewhere, and so I would have occasional meltdowns and I coped unhealthily with a variety of different methods.

The wildest thing about having a third party professional validate you, is that after the initial disbelief, you begin to self-validate. It might take a couple sessions, or a couple months, or a couple years, but eventually you’ll begin to acknowledge that you feel the way that you feel and that it is completely justified.

Then, when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, as you practice being in touch with your own emotions in order to figure out why certain behaviors from people tend to push you towards anger, weariness, sadness, or frustration, you become more empathetic to the experiences of others you interact with.

For me personally, the before and after looked something like this:

In the past, I might have had a disagreement with my mother and felt like I wasn’t being heard. When she would say certain phrases or behave in ways that had previously been used by my brain to push me towards shutting down, my brain would reinforce this past narrative that she did not understand or see me and I would just shut up and mentally check out of the conversation and take my frustration out somewhere else or on someone else.

Nowadays, we might have a conversation that turns emotionally charged due to our history. Even though voices might be raised, tears might be shed, and vulnerabilities might be exposed, I am capable of articulating why I feel the way that I do, while also deciphering what experiences are informing her behavior and her experience. So yes the emotions are being processed, but not at the expense of invalidating either of us.

Because at the end of the day, now we are both able to communicate why certain topics, behaviors, or words trigger us and we have enough experiencing internally processing our own emotions to understand and empathize with the other person.

CLEARLY not everyone has parents who are willing to go to therapy, but even without the reciprocal behavior, there is so much benefit that comes from the skill of self-validating.

When I left this job, I had a pretty emotionally high meeting with my boss. I was very grateful for the opportunities he had given me and the mentorship that he had offered me, but it was time to move on. On top of that, our relationship had become toxic for a handful of reasons. There was a lot of gaslighting and just mismatched expectations. I had been hired for one role but it had been misrepresented to me and what it eventually ended up being was not what I had initially agreed to. I had spent years thinking that I was unreasonable and that I should be thankful and grateful to have a job. I had asked numerous times for certain things to change, but a pattern of unkept promises and inaction eventually pushed me towards some very unhealthy habits that made me ask “why” I was trying to find solace in such unhelpful ways.

When I sat in that room and we had that conversation, my boss was obviously frustrated. He believed that I owed him more than a two weeks notice and he was pretty aggressive. I wanted soooo badly to lash out and unleash years of anger and frustration, but luckily I knew that this was the best move for both of us. As he attacked my “short notice” I self-validated and told him that I was sorry and that I had not done this before. I thanked him genuinely for giving me an opportunity when I had none and for taking care of me when I was struggling. He calmed down and we left on decent terms.

Long story short, self-validation is so important because it informs your life decisions.

What are you worth?

Is how you feel justified?

Why do you feel the way you do?

Are you actually angry or frustrated with the person you are taking your anger or frustration out on?

Some ways you can practically apply this concept of self-validation to your life are just taking a second to sit with your uncomfortable emotions after tumultuous encounters with family, coworkers, or friends.

Practice saying that “A normal person would be _____________ just like I am if placed in the same situation”

I think our friends (if they are good friends) generally try to do this to also validate us. Sometimes they try to play devil’s advocate or “humble” us with “sides we may not have seen” and that can play a role in gaslighting us. It can also lead to our inner voices invalidating us with things like “they have to say that because they are your friends” or “see even your friends think you are being unreasonable.”

After you validate how you feel, try and get to the root of why certain behaviors, words, or topics made you feel the way that you do.

Very very rarely, is something so upsetting just caused by a one-off scenario.

Process that feeling and really push into the discomfort that it causes in order to trace that feeling back into past interactions where you also felt the same way.

The final straw that actually got me to try out therapy was actually yelling at my girlfriend about a feeling that I had towards one of my exes. When I realized that I was hurting someone else because I was still hurting from something that was said to me by an entirely different person, it made me realize that I needed help identifying and tracing my own emotions.

I hope that this is helpful in some shape or form.

In closing:

You are seen.

How you feel is valid.

You aren’t crazy.

If you have two seconds, if you can maybe fill out this survey regarding the “Lessons from Therapy” series I would greatly appreciate it!

Lessons From Therapy: Introduction

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a staunch advocate for therapy. If you ask my close friends, they will probably roll their eyes if you ask them about how much I try to convince them to go and seek out therapy for themselves.

I’ve realized over time that individual choice is one of the greatest gifts that we have each been given and that the benefits of therapy are really only experienced when several different stars align. On top of that, mental health is still not recognized at the same level as physical health in many different cultures and contexts. Because of this, there is also a high financial cost associated with therapy, and this prevents even more people from getting the help they might desire. Many religions claim that spirituality should solve all issues regarding trauma and emotional processing, thus further stigmatizing seeking help. Media and film is constantly misrepresenting both care providers and those seeking care so that it seems that the norm is providers that abuse their stations and patients that are being absolute nut cases while trying to “get away with murder” (shoutout to Annalise Keating).

As I toned down my soap-box-go-to-therapy sales pitch, I racked my brain to try and find a way to share what I had learned without coming off as proselytizing, heavy-handed, or judgmental.

After as emotionally taxing of a year as 2020, I realized that we all really do need therapy, but some of us are just not going to go and seek out help for various reasons.

So whether your barrier is the stigma associated with it, the financial burden, the mystery associated with it, or anything else, I decided to do a short bite-size blog series on the most important lessons I learned from therapy.

In the next few blogs, I will be sharing some personal accounts combined with lessons that I’ve learned over the last few years. One of my resolutions for this year is to be more concise than I have been in the past so here’s to blogs that are far less than 2,000 words.

It is important to note that I am not a care provider nor a professional and so really I just hope that these posts are able to pique your interest and prompt you to educate yourself more.

As the blogs are released, hyperlinks to the different posts will be available here with topic tags for quick identification and access.

Thanks for reading!

“You Aren’t Crazy” : The importance of self-validation, in your journey of understanding yourself and empathizing with others.

Learning to Cope“: The difference between negative coping mechanisms and life-giving activities. Some ideas for how to step away from more harmful behaviors by supplementing them with healthier ones.

Climate Change“: How knowing ourselves and what we are passionate about can inform our decisions on when to change careers or better position ourselves to pursue what is life-giving to us.

If you have two seconds, if you can maybe fill out this survey regarding the “Lessons from Therapy” series I would greatly appreciate it!

Beyond the Grave (2019 Edition)

Not even a month ago, I was throwing around creative ideas with one of my best friends Imon. From our incredibly weird icebreaker questions to the wide variety of activities that we partake in, nothing is really off the table when it comes to outlandish ideas.

That night particularly we discussed creating a posthumous form of media that would communicate some sort of message to the people we left behind should we surprisingly be wiped from life here on earth. This was ironically before the hysteria and seriousness of Covid-19 became as apparent as it is now.

We talked about how our youth might have prevented us from being as honest, grateful, or genuine as we might have been if we knew our time was rapidly coming to a close. We thought it would be a novel concept to reflect at the end of one year and to write a “good-bye” of sorts that would only release if we died that following year. After some development, we decided it would be an interesting concept to release the previous year’s message if we lived through the next, kind of like a “forced honesty accountability session.”

For some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep tonight, and I felt that this post needed to be written. So without further ado: Paul from Beyond the Grave: the 2019 Edition.

Fear Itself:

I’ve spent a lot of my life afraid. From the fear of the dark to the fear of failure, it seems that fear has driven the majority of my decisions.

Oftentimes my fear of how far gone I was stunted my own growth and healing because I refused to acknowledge that there was something that I needed to address.

There have been so many personal demons that I have remained quiet about for so long for fear of rejection. That lie that “if people knew what you did, they could never look at you ever again.”

How often that lie has repeated in my head, holding me in a constant state of limbo. As I held the secrets deep inside, the sickness festered and slowly destroyed me.

Rest and peace were nowhere to be found as anxiety and depression sucked the life out of me.

It is so painfully ironic. We cling to our darkness and secrets as if they will keep us safe if they stay hidden, yet late at night, when no one is awake, that is the exact same time when we stare into the abyss and believe the lies that our own secretiveness breeds.

There is this misconception that “special” people need to go to therapy because they can’t handle their own emotions.

Or that they are weak.

Or some other ridiculous stigma-ridden statement that discourages it.

Just drug up and suck it up right?

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know, that as a human being, one of the best decisions you can make, is to get professional help to walk you through processing your life.

All of our lives are filled with trauma. We have all experienced valid physical, emotional, and spiritual hurts that we have had to learn to somehow deal with. Some of us have healed, but the vast majority of us have gotten really good at hiding pain and pretending that problems don’t exist.

Therapy is no panacea (a fancy word that means a solve all or a wonder cure), but wouldn’t you like to get to know who you are better than you already do?

For so much of my life, I preferred getting to know why some girl that I thought was cute did what she did rather than understanding why I did what I did.

I talk about this concept to some degree in As Yourself but basically, how can we adequately love those around us if we do not love ourselves? And how can we love ourselves if we don’t know ourselves?

I have learned so much about showing myself grace, how events in the past have shaped how I think and react to the world, and how my pain/hurt/anger/frustration/thoughts are valid.

I’ve experienced so much healing and reconciliation in relationships, but the greatest benefit has been the ability to look into the mirror and not hate myself while continually extending myself grace for each new day. The process is by no means easy, but healing is SO much better than temporary fixes and negative coping mechanisms.

Because eventually, the buzz wears off, we come down from the high, and the people closest to us aren’t accessible for some reason and we are left alone to face our biggest opponent: ourselves.

Alone: Enter the Porn Pandemic

I remember sitting in the high school youth group as boys split from girls as special speakers talked to each gender separately about “sexual purity.”

I remember stumbling upon pornography abandoned by a previous tenant in an apartment that we stayed in for a very short stint right before high school.

I remember how natural curiosity led to an obsession with a medium that I thought didn’t hurt anyone.

I distinctly remember how when the stress came in full force during college, how I failed out of engineering because I wasn’t sleeping.

What a tangled web porn weaves.

I grew up in church, wasn’t abused as a kid, and had quite a normal childhood.

How did I get to this point?

I am so alone. If people knew…

They can’t- must never find out.

This will be my little secret.

Oh, how I’ve wanted to write on this subject.

Oh, but what a hypocrite I would be, to write on a subject that I don’t yet have under control.

But, for those of you who do struggle, be encouraged for you are indeed not alone.

In the last decade and a half, pornography has become so much more accessible. What used to be age-restricted in certain video stores or confined to the pages of magazines now fits in our pockets for free. Studies are still discovering the full effects of this cheap counterfeit of meaningful relationships, but the data keeps rolling in about how harmful it really is.

I’m not talking harmful as in “bad or immoral behavior,” I mean literal re-wiring of your brain and your perception of intimacy bad.

Outside of that, the drug-like endorphin-abusing nature of porn requires a higher level of potency to maintain the same high. Which means just like physical drugs, porn consumption will LITERALLY never leave us satisfied because we will continue to escalate our consumption to maintain the same high. The links between gender violence and porn have time and time again been shown to exist. Racism and sexism get a free pass in the porn genre for some reason. But I mean we already know this. (for more information on the harmful effects of pornography check out this organization called “Fight the New Drug” or do what I did, and listen to their podcast “Consider Before Consuming“)

One of the things that discouraged me most about porn was the fact that there was no one to talk to about it.

On the one hand, you have church where there is this huge age difference between the teachers and the students and so the struggles and temptations of today are neither understood nor addressed. As if saying, “Sex is good, but don’t do it if you aren’t married” is adequate teaching to help a young person traverse the literal fucking minefield that is adolescence nowadays. And then second to premarital sex is the more closet offender, porn. Now porn is an even less discussed topic so CLEARLY, no one struggles with it. OR if it is, let’s simply treat the symptoms without getting to the root of the void that porn is attempting to fill.

Then, on the other hand, you have literally everyone else. And everyone else is JUST as confused as me. Media says sex is one thing, movies say relationships are another thing, and then we are being fed different narratives depending on who we are. “Porn is empowering,” “porn is degrading,” among all the other mixed messages that are being broadcasted.

Either way, you look at it, the topic is so taboo to discuss that many times we just don’t.

I remember the first time I told my college pastor about my porn problem. His response was a complete shock to my system as he hugged me and told me that I was more than this habit.

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly more transparent with what I struggle with, because I’ve realized that there is something strange that happens when secrets are exposed. It will differ from individual to individual, but I’ve realized that a lot of my triggers stem from much deeper fears of being alone or feeling out of control. Now instead of fighting a losing battle where I only treat the symptoms, I’m attempting to address the underlying reason why I consume what I consume.

I will say, that much of my ability to process the “why” behind a lot my vices has been aided immensely by the work that therapy has aided me in beginning.

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know these things I’ve learned:

  1. You aren’t alone. This is a huge issue. How the world addresses porn is going to determine how deep the social consequences in the future will be.
  2. Contrary to common belief, you do need community. Self will power will only get you so far. I’ve opened up to pastors and friends but I HIGHLY recommend talking about this with a professional LMFT. Most of us don’t realize that porn is the symptom of something deeper, and being able to talk with an unbiased professional about the steps you took to get to where you are is an absolute must.
  3. Transparency and talking about this elephant in the room is one of the keys to disarming its power over your life.

Grace, Hypocrisy, & Staying In Your Lane

Grace is an interesting concept.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand it, but I don’t think I began to understand it until I was in a position where I needed to be the recipient of grace.

I spent so much of my life being a “wholesome” kid, that even though I sang songs and heard sermons about how I did not and could not earn grace, I thought in my head that I had most definitely earned it. 

I’m way better than these heathens.

There is this really profound parable in the Bible that talks about this concept of grace and forgiveness. Basically, this one servant owes his boss a shit ton of money. We’re talking debt that makes a southern California residential mortgage look like chump change. After begging his boss to forgive the debt and miraculously having the debt forgiven, the servant returns home overjoyed.

He then goes to do what every person who has just had debt forgiven would do: he goes and demands this other servant who owes him something within the single-digit thousands of debt to pay him back in full. When the second servant asks for more time, the first servant has the second one thrown into prison.

When the boss hears about this, he throws the first guy into prison and it’s not a good time for him.

The point of the story, as I read it, is that we are often that first servant.

If you believe in God and His grace, then how can you not extend that same grace to those around you?

If you don’t believe in God, to fail to extend grace to those around you is to understate the grace you have been shown your whole life by family, friends, significant others, etc.

As I was training for the marathon in 2018, I went on a hike with some friends and the group decided to collectively sprint down the three-mile hike on the return trip. I had a feeling that this was NOT the best idea for me, but I decided to go along with the group anyways.

Literally, three seconds later, something got realllll fucked up in my knee, and I limped the whole rest of the way down that hike.

While painful, I learned a valuable lesson about going at my own pace and running my own race.

When race day came, I didn’t look at the speed or cadence of those around me. I knew my own body and I knew what pace I was going to be able to sustain and my one goal for that race was to finish it.

It would have been so dumb of me to offer running advice to other people running the race with me because it was just as foreign to me as it was to many of those I was running with.

If I was to die in 2020, I would want you to know this:

  1. Extend grace to others often because you have definitely been and will continue to be a recipient of grace throughout the course of your life.
  2. Stay in your lane, learn about yourself, know yourself, and don’t quit until you cross that finish line.

Life is temporary, and it is sobering to think that some of us need a pandemic to break out for us to realize that. Of the laundry list of strange things that I think about, death is actually a frequent topic.

In the 26, almost 27 years of my life I have been told about God, encountered Him myself and attempted to reconcile a good God with an imperfect church and a pain-filled world. I know without a doubt, that if it wasn’t for Him I literally would not be physically here to write this today. I should have been dead most likely by my own hand.

And yet, in His grace and His provision I am able to write this and to share with you what I hope is encouragement in some way. This same grace is extended to you from Him, no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done.

Covid-19 has made the temporary more obviously temporary and I hope that you take a second and evaluate what you value and who you are. Tell your family and friends “the things they already know.” Reconcile those long lost friendships. Don’t take anything for granted and don’t give in to the mass hysteria.

Peace, and hopefully we’ll get to the blog where I do the 2020 version!



Smoke and Mirrors

In a season, where Spotify: Year in Review playlists are on repeat, it seems only fitting to reflect upon the happenings of the past year. On the one hand, 2019 was all kinds of pain and frustration. Post-traveling depression, battles with addiction, the search for a more potent coping mechanism, a lack of identity and belonging, wounds at work, family dysfunctionality, and the departure of close friends. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2019 was the best year of my life. Four different countries, breakthroughs in therapy sessions, getting in touch with my feelings, family reconciliation, bold career moves, a marathon, and the re-birth of my passion for film.

As a speaker this week said, “every year is a mixed bag.”

At the beginning of this month, I began brainstorming for a blog post that would reflect on both the pain and progress that this year brought for me.

Three days ago I got into a car accident that completely de-railed my plans to do so. After that, my schedule seemed to edge out any free time that I had to plan my blog.

Now, with less than twenty-two hours before the end of a decade, I sit and reflect on all that has happened.

In life, it is so easy to see how far we have to go without ever truly appreciating how far we’ve come.

Ten years ago, I was a high school junior studying for the SAT while clandestinely seeing my secret girlfriend that my parents forbid me from having. In the ten years from then to now I have: graduated from both high school and college, attended and left three different churches, transitioned from a Christian rap/ccm heavy music palette to a very eclectic lo-fi/pop/alternative mix of music, realized that God really does exist, participated in two of my closest friends’ weddings, left the church due to being fed up with the hypocrisy, struggled with anxiety and depression, worked as an: assistant to a real estate broker, a car finance funder, a tutor, a food service team member, a corporate grand opening trainer for chick-fil-a, a staff accountant, a security system sales rep, and a Operations/Food Safety/Facilities director, lead three different small groups, and so much more.

It has been a journey that has been filled with metaphorical hills and valleys. I’ve come face to face with the darkest desires and tendencies that I possess while also discovering what motivates me to wake up each day.

2019 was so different than so many years because well..

Instead of saving for tomorrow the ideas, trips, moves, and conversations that I thought of today, I decided to just do it.

Traveling to me, made no sense for the longest time. I did not understand why we who lived in one of the most affluent countries in the world, would ever want to leave our comfort to go and see other places. So, as fate or the Divine (depending on what you believe) would have it when Crystal asked me if I wanted to go to Turkey in the fall of 2018, I just happened to have been potentially the most burned out that I will ever be. I was working as a staff accountant in the mornings, working at chick-fil-a from 2-midnight, while also doing stints across the country opening new stores. Zero creative outlets, severe writer’s block, and a mind so screwed up by consequences to rash actions of the past pointed to a need for an escape.

So when Crystal asked if I wanted to go to a country that I only knew of because of the fact that my cousin had been stranded there while the natives threw a coup, I thought that this might be a fun distraction from the hellishly busy life that I lead.

Suffice it to say, that trip changed my perspective on life. Just as January marks the beginning of a new year, so this trip to Turkey marked the beginning of a new perspective of the world and my place in it. I began to re-embrace the UC ingrained concept of trusting no one and experiencing everything oneself. I learned that sometimes… it’s better if you don’t listen to your friends.

In March, I ran and walked my first marathon. I had planned to run it from the year prior as a way to prove to myself that I was more than someone who promised to finish things he started, only to quit shortly after starting. It was the most physically tolling experience that I have ever undertaken. I was ill-prepared and afraid as my inconsistencies with training were paid for in full and with interest on the race day.

Yet somehow by the Grace of God, I finished. The encouragement of William and the accountability that was created by me telling people I was going to run the marathon, pushed me to do something that I never would have deemed possible. And what should have been next in a list of things I said I was going to do but never completed became the topic sentence of the new essay of my life. The essay in which Paul was a finisher and not just a starter. Indeed, it was fitting that there was a mile representative of each year of my 26 years of life and that as the mile count increased, so did the pain and desire to quit.

Upon returning from Turkey, I struggled with depression as I returned to what appeared to be a dead-end job. I realized that what I valued in life and in work was not reciprocated by the decision-makers where I worked. I had been trying to make my parents proud my whole life and yet that had ended up in failure after failure. Unlike my travels, the day to day was a mundane routine that never made way for new experiences. One of my best friends was moving away, following the pattern that I had begun to see in my life: that everything ends.

A business consultant for our store passed away quickly and rather unexpectedly. This shattered my fantasy of pursuing a career as a Chick-fil-A operator. For me, the profit has never been enough to keep me invested. I’ve stayed with the brand and this store because of the people. People like Imon, Dina, Jazz, Amanda, Marco, Pancho, Nolan, Emma, William, Alan, Jared, Helen, Julian, Michael, Joanne, Jade, Mariel, Lindsey, Ellison, Keisse, Marla, Jordan, Kelsey, Danielle, Twabu, Victor, Tyler, Iris, Hector, Michelle, Craig, and more than I can name. They have oftentimes been the sole reason I went into work.

So when an operator, I had never met, at a conference meant specifically for operators, slammed my vision for a store that hired people from at-risk communities with the goal of funding social work with the profits from the business, I began to make connections between this one operator and my experiences so far.

They were experiences tainted by misunderstanding, poor communication, and a focus on profits over people. And just like that, I realized, I didn’t want to delay what I was passionate about in order to accrue money to do what I wanted to do. In fact, I wasn’t even capable of lying or keeping up a facade of pursuing this potentially lucrative career.

Just like that, my primary career prospect went out the window, and I spiraled with no purpose and a stripped identity into arguably the most difficult season of my life.

Right around this time, I bit the bullet and finally joined one of Mariners’ Rooted Groups. The whole purpose behind these weekly small groups was to establish a healthy community of peers that were in similar life stages. It was one of the hardest commitments to stick with, as we literally all started out not knowing one another in the slightest. Yet, over time, we all shared about our lives and our darkest struggles (some of which were ongoing and unresolved), and we began to really engage and get to know one another.

There was a freedom that came from confiding in what was at the time a group of strangers and then sticking with that group to simply do life together. Some nights we got into the nitty-gritty of what God was doing in our lives and how we should live better lives, but some nights we just ate and drank together. I had been in many small groups before, but the honesty, transparency, and commitment of this group trumped all of the ones before.

Shoutout to Sam, Gavin, Will, Amy, Xochitl, Star, Baxter, and Jordan for doing this season of life together. Y’all encouraged me to begin to take brave steps into the unknown.

In the summer, my family took a trip to King’s Canyon and we hit a rock and got a flat tire some 38 miles away from civilization. No cell reception, no pump, and a few hours of daylight.

Through a miraculous turn of events that I’ll be sure to blog about in the future, we replaced the tire and a man stopped to help us and he just happened to have a compressor/pump in his car that he had just placed in his car a week ago because he had been caught with a flat and was heavily inconvenienced because he didn’t have a pump on him.

My family decided to end our vacation early, but we used the extra day to reconvene, and we did something that we had never done before. We met up and wrote letters to each other, without knowing who was going to be the recipient of the letter. What ensued was a three-hour session of family reconciliation and encouragement that completely changed the course of where we were heading.

When the anxiety and depression had started to spiral out of control earlier in the year, I had started turning to all sorts of coping mechanisms to try and numb the pain. Alcohol, weed, porn(More on this taboo topic in 2020), gaming, running, and writing all played a part. After realizing that none of these things was doing an adequate job of keeping me sane, I returned to therapy with the sole intent of getting things under control. (FUCK the stereotypes, mysticism, and negative connotations surrounding therapy! More on this topic in 2020 as well)

It turns out that due to a combination of different factors including upbringing, relationships, past hurts, work, and broken friendships, I had forgotten how to process my emotions and it had become difficult if not impossible to decipher what it is that I wanted in life.

I began this long process of re-hashing my past, self-validating, and processing what I was feeling or wanting in the given moment. Over the course of the year, I began to see personal growth as I began to place boundaries of where Paul Ho existed. I began to be able to discern what was what I wanted and what was what other people wanted me to be. Slowly, it was beginning to come together.

All 1839 words that have been written so far culminated in the boldest move I have ever attempted. Crystal invited me on another trip to Morocco and Spain… right in the middle of Chick-fil-a’s busiest season… as we were in interviews for another store. I had finally reached the personal conclusion while talking with my therapist that Chick-fil-a was not for me and that it was okay. So, after talking and deliberating with my family and my life group, and after binge drinking myself to throwing up four times one night when the stress of work had proven too much for me to bear, I decided that I was going to quit.

It took all the courage I did not have to table that discussion with my boss.

I had also decided that since I would be jobless anyways that I was going to plan a trip to Mexico City to do some work with an organization that I had volunteered with in the spring of 2015.

If you read waymaker, you already know how that story goes.

It was like a switch turned on after I went on that trip. All of a sudden, I wasn’t afraid of what I wanted anymore. I wasn’t trying to make my family proud. I wasn’t trying to say the right things to my boss or coworkers. I wasn’t doing the smart and practical things that people my age were supposed to be doing. I wasn’t faking who I was any more to fit in.

I was unashamedly me and I was going to pursue the passions that I had regardless of how insane, naive, or foolish they seemed to anyone else. I finally had my permission to be myself and no one could take that away from me.

It has been a month and a half since I returned and I won’t lie, it still feels like something is different about me. Yet, despite the seeming clarity that I now possess, there still remains so much uncertainty in my life. There are still days where my anxiety nearly overwhelms me. There are still miscommunications and arguments that plague my relationships. There are still challenges and hardships that I must struggle to overcome.

Yet of one thing I am certain: my life is a film, and God is the ultimate director.

I think the car accident from a few days ago, the work drama of the last week, and the flat tire Dina got today were all smokescreens to distract me from sharing about my experiences in the last year. Not to glorify my story, or to make you think that your story is any less extraordinary. To God be the glory for His provision and faithfulness this past year. In the darkest seasons, He was still there validating me. In the best seasons, He was there encouraging me. And if anything I hope that regardless of what you believe that you see that the number of coincidences is wayyy too damn high in my life to attribute to chance.

My friends, wherever this new year finds you, whether it be in the midst of addiction, a mental breakdown, tragedy, uncertainty, cynicism, loss, hopelessness, loss of dreams, emptiness, unemployment, the frayed remains of a broken relationship, a broken and dysfunctional family, or wherever else you might be, I hope and pray that you are encouraged in knowing that you are not alone.

We can never hope to explain or understand why we must go through these difficult seasons. Yet, I hope that as this new decade begins, that instead of resolving to be different in the future, that you would take a moment to realize how far you’ve come. And not only how far you’ve come, but how your story however dark it may be, is not over.

The sun still exists behind the clouds.

You have not been forgotten.

You are not alone.

There is hope.

Sometimes, we just can’t see it behind the smoke and mirrors.