“Sir are you ok” – An extraordinary Costco moment

Josh GilmanAwareness, Community

The most extraordinary thing happened to me in Costco the other day.

But what does that have to do with fighting pornography?

Today is #BellLetsTalk day. Regardless of whether or not you believe it’s just one big corporation’s way of getting free promotion, it has become a day across Canada for people to bravely speak up about mental health.

But what does that have to do with fighting pornography?

I’ll explain the second one first. At its base, compulsive pornography use is a science thing. Your brain is firing off all sorts of chemicals. It creates real pathways in your brain that lead your thoughts and desires in a certain direction. Your brain craves the dopamine and other chemicals being fired off by the superstimulus of porn. (For more on how this all works, I STRONGLY suggest reading Covenant Eyes free e-book on the matter. It’s excellent)

But the point is. It’s more than just a “heart issue”. And for many people, it is actually a symptom of other issues. For myself, it was a way for a very anxious teenager to deal with anxiety. It was a way for me to not feel anything when I was starting to feel depressed. It was simply my self-medication of choice. And until I dealt with the other issues, whether it was porn, or alcohol or drugs, I would have been turning to something.

I don’t believe I ever was to the point where I would have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression from a clinical perspective. But multiple times a month I speak with someone who is dealing with that. Suffering from various mental health ailments, they ask me for help getting free from pornography and I tell them, you have to deal with all of it. Thank you for asking for help, but let’s find you an expert who can help you with what is at the root of your fight, so you don’t turn to other self-medication.

But I’m not actually writing this for people dealing with Mental Health issues. I’m writing this to their friends. Which is you. All of you. And that is where Costco comes in.

So there I was…on a weekend. Have you ever gone to Costco on a weekend? It has a lot in common with the final battle scene in Lord of the Rings. Just bodies everywhere, screaming, yelling, desperation, an ogre or two. When I finally made my way to the cash the cashier greeted me with a standard cashier greeting. “How are you doing today?”, and I responded with what I thought was a slightly funny joke considering the surrounding chaos. “Oh just mildly claustrophobic.” That’s when the extraordinary thing happened. She stopped scanning my items, looked me in the eye and said.

“Sir, are you ok.”

She asked me gently and sincerely. I was so startled to be asked a real honest question by a human in the middle of Costco that it took me a moment to try to explain that I was just cracking wise about how busy it was. She said, “oh ok…are you sure you’re ok”.

The cashier did three extraordinary things in my opinion. At least to someone conditioned in Canadian politeness which is often the same thing as indifference.

  1. She actually was listening to my words and took them seriously, taking into account that we often admit truths in jest that we are not brave enough to admit.
  2. She risked the potential awkwardness, counting the slight chance that I was actually in distress as worth it.
  3. She didn’t let me just brush it off but gave me a second chance to ask for help if I needed it.

This should be a lesson for all of us. It’s often hard to see the invisible struggles people are going through. Mental health, or things like porn addiction, but if we are willing to truly be listening, sometimes our friends will admit more in a joke, or off-hand comment then they intended. Are we listening?

Secondly, we need to be willing to risk the uncomfortableness. Asking questions like, “Are you ok?”, or “Is there something you want to talk about?”, can lead to awkwardness sometimes, but should we not consider a little awkwardness worth the possibility that we could end up being a lifeline to a friend in need?

This day for #LetsTalk, my promise is to listen more.