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New Year's Reflections: Addiction, Family And Love

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Thirteen years ago, after I had been kicked out of the house for being a drunk and a liar, I started going to a New Age massage therapist named Melissa. I had just been the chief financial officer of a billion-dollar enterprise, and I had two baby children and a heap of problems.

Melissa had wild red hair and often missed appointments to tend to her black Lab, which slept under the table at her office when she was there. She used crystals to read my body energy and described how the ability to give energy (or love) resides in the right side of the body and the ability to receive energy resides in the left side. Her crystals determined that I, like most men, was strongly right-side dominant.

Whenever she mentioned this duality--dubious as it sounded--it reminded me how I couldn't seem to receive love from my kids, my family, the world, or a higher power. When she touched the left side of my body my heart hurt. At first I cried facedown, so she wouldn't see my pain. But soon I realized she already knew how much trouble I was in; there was no use hiding it. So I lay face up, with salty drops rolling down my cheeks and into my ears.

There was much that I desperately wanted to control in those days, but couldn't. Sometimes I would arrive at Melissa's office so distraught that she had me lay down immediately on the table so she could go right to work. As she touched me, she sometimes asked me about the visions she said she was having of blockages in the flow of energy in my body. Or I would speak, unprompted, about my guilt over not being present enough in my kids' lives or about the wreckage caused by my alcohol addiction.

In the years since I have experienced many, many blessings. I've been sober since December 28, 1996. I have had a role in my kids' lives. I have had financial success. On December 28, 2002 I remarried, to the woman of my dreams. On Valentine's Day 2005, my wife and I had a child, a son. In the last year I have edited a book and produced a film on manhood. And in promoting The Good Men Project book and film, I have been to Sing Sing and Hollywood and on media outlets all over the country.

Yet, as I think about New Year's resolutions I am brought back to Melissa. My right side still dominates. Like many men, I still have trouble letting the world, or my wife or my kids, love me. Through obsessive activity, I keep them at too far a distance.

The men's movement I am attempting to spark with The Good Men Project--the book, the film, the website, the panel discussions and presentations--has taken me away from the very principles that got me this far. I have become an Internet whore. I have no interest in pornography; I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Huffington, blip.tv, Flickr, Scribd, LinkedIn, and old-fashion email. My laptop and BlackBerry are always on, and I can tell you exactly how many people are watching me and which influencers I am chasing like a beagle on a foxhunt.

When I was talking to my wife the other night about New Year's resolutions, she volunteered that she'd like me to spend less time on my social media family and more with my real family. "We need you," she said matter-of-factly.

I also have been thinking of the times in the last year when I treated men and women working on our Project with anger rather than compassion. I have a bad habit of using my own urgency as a weapon at moments when I perceive others have let me, or our greater goal, down. I'm not proud of it. I know anger is generally counterproductive.

What Melissa used to say, and I know to be true, is that doing less isn't a matter of giving up on a goal in life; it is actually a way to be more effective and accomplish more. A similar theory is espoused in the yoga I have done for a decade now where, though your instincts might tell you to hold your breath and push to your limits during poses, you are reminded to relax and breathe. In fact the breathing is the whole point. This, too, I know to be true: You can do just about anything a hell of a lot longer, more effectively, and more enjoyably--swim or read or make love--if you just remember to inhale and exhale.

So my resolution is to bring what I learned from Melissa, and what I learned on my yoga mat, back more deeply into my life. Yes I want to continue to expand the Project's role in the lives of men. But the best way to do that is to be less insecure, to receive love from my wife and kids, to have more faith, to show love and receive love, to let go more often, to develop my left side instead of pounding away with my right fist on a table or a Blackberry, to laugh and cry in the face of my own anger, and to remember, when all else fails, to breathe deeply.

*****

Tom Matlack is the cofounder of The Good Men Project.

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