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Day 971 • Is This Much True?

Pop culture is easy to ridicule for its labels and short answers, but it is what it is because of the snippets of authenticity that it reflects back on our communities and ourselves. From Star Trek stories to Mr. Rogers revelations, I have written and spoken about these supposed ‘shallow’ peeks into our psyches and struggles several times.

Today, I finished watching the last of a limited series that I suspect will win a bunch of awards for quality acting and production.

I Know This Much Is True

is the story of identical twin boys and their mental health issues. A classic nurture vs. nature morality play, it stars Mark Ruffalo as both of the troubled twins in their adult years.

My Mark Ruffalo fandom was cemented by his sensitive and brutal portrayal of a sex addict in the 2012 film Thanks For Sharing, which I watched with my wife shortly after my diagnosis and disclosure. Unfortunately, my wife’s reaction to that character was such that she no longer enjoys Ruffalo‘s performances, at least not yet.

I could talk about I Know This Much Is True for much longer than the film’s runtime. It touched me in multiple parts of my journey; some issues I’ve written about before and others I’m just starting to explore, and yet others that I’m not ready to face. So, my comments here are very limited compared to the flood of my emotions, but I need to get at least this much down in print.

One scene resonated significantly with that part of my recovery journey that has included getting to be friends with a bunch of sex addicts...

Inexplicably drawn to each other since childhood despite their distrust and even dislike for each other, two characters were confronting a confusing moment where one of them had put himself at risk to help the other one whom he had always hated. The storyline had already hinted at a key plot twist that explained their complicated relationship, but only one of the characters had known the truth over the years. When the one that knew was asked why he had helped the other one that he hated, his answer brought tears to my eyes and clogs to my throat:

“...because we are connected, whether I like you or not.”

Nearly as moving as the film was Alisyn Camerota’s hour-long interview with the lead actors and a few others involved in the production, including the author of the book that inspired the series. I was amazed at how each of them had a familia story of mental health pain and brokenness that informed the characters they brought to life. Thinking the actors’ selection for their roles must have been because of these common experiences, my emotions were again pricked by the expressions of surprise among the interviewees as each player shared their story, some for the first time.

There’s a line I’ve learned to often tell myself that gives me both empathy and sympathy:

“Everyone has a story of pain and heartbreak, and sharing that road when we can helps everyone.”

Cynically aware of the possibility that the interview with the cast was just another part of the performance, my take was that these people leaned into each other in supportive ways that felt as real as anything I’ve ever seen from Tinseltown. Watching these professionals process their art as therapy helped me understand some of my urgency to write about my addiction experiences.

And watching them felt familiar as I was reminded of listening and sharing and responding to the life scripts of a 12 Step meeting.

Once again, I had to agree against myself that sexual compulsion is a mental health issue. It just is. I have a mental sickness, and I am not alone. Not anymore.

Was I born this way, or did some childhood trauma bend my brain and make me vulnerable to this struggle? I have lived on both sides of that question’s extremes, but the wisdom of age and the clarity of fewer secrets have convinced me that most mental health, as well as mental illness, is a combination of both nature and nurture. Responding to the things that I can is all I can do to be a better person; some things are just not in my control. That balance is also captured in my observation from various resources that being abused as a child does not mean that you will become a sex addict, but if you are a sex addict, the chances are near 100% that there was abuse in your childhood.

And regardless of any foundational causes or explanations, I can never forget about my own responsibility. Do I have a disease? Yes. Does that grant me a pass for every stupid decision I’ve made that has fed the beast? No, I can’t think so.

But that’s just me; I could be wrong. It seems there are always more questions than answers from such experiences, which was in large part the point of both the book and the film.

While debating whether to go back and watch this six-part series again, I’ll end this journal entry with the title quote from the film, which is what got my attention in the first place.

As one of Ruffalo’s characters is processing a significant transformation in his life, his voiceover tells the story:

“We know this much is true… • Love grows from forgiveness; • That the evidence of God exists in our connections to one another. I’m not a smart man, but one day, this much at least I figured out; I know this much is true."



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