The Growing Threat of Psychographic Profiling & Big Data

My research for the Master of Science in Communication at the Purdue has consisted mostly of communication strategies directed at Millennials. Whether it be Volkswagen, Marriott International or Paramount Pictures this demographic accounts for the bulk of social media marketing campaigns. It makes sense right? Young people make up the majority of social media users and organizations are carefully tracking their tech-savvy behavior through interactive content online.

Not only do multi-national corporations want to know our ages, they also want to know our psychological makeup. This kind of data can indicate everything from our favorite restaurants to our religious philosophies or lack thereof. Kind of a scary thought isn’t it? The bottom line is the better an organization knows and understands its customers, the easier it is to create messages that will successfully sell them products and services.

With that being said, I must respectfully disagree with digital metrics extraordinaire  Avinash Kaushik who stated as recently as 2014 that demographic and psychographic information is the least useful data available to online businesses. Yes, Competitive Intelligence Analysis (CIA) is a critical component of a winning digital marketing plan and Echosystem results matter, but if you ask me, demographic and psychographic data are the most valuable of all analytical metrics. We need look no further than the results of the 2016 US presidential election for evidence of the power wielded by psychoanalytic information.

It is hard to dispute the success of the communication strategy that won Donald Trump the election. Many Washington insiders believe the secret of Trump’s successful presidential bid lies with a relatively unknown startup called Cambridge Analytica. This little “big data” company was hired by the Trump campaign to measure the psychographics of the American electorate. The rest is history. It might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix boasts ”we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America” (Grassegger & Krogerus 2017). Over the top? The company’s research is said to be based on the well-established psychological profiling theory behind the “Big Five” or “OCEAN” which stands for the personality traits of “openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism” (Grassegger & Krogerus 2017).

It has been a well-known fact among psychologists for quite some time that OCEAN data can determine an individual’s personality with a high amount of accuracy. While this information in and of itself has been of great use for decades, computer technology has revolutionized its collection and impact. The fact is, most of us are now part of a massive survey sampling on our smartphones that just keeps on giving.

Psychologist and Stanford professor, Michal Kosinski, who developed the original Facebook profiling technique, believes smartphones provide “a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously” (Grassegger & Krogerus 2017). Who can disagree? Basically, smartphone intel adds up to a marketing research nirvana that can basically predict everything from where we are located to our chosen political ideology. If that doesn’t freak you out a little bit, it should.

It’s exactly this kind of intelligence that won a glitzy real estate developer with zero political experience the most powerful office in the world. Kaushik is correct when he asserted that it is important to get a “head-to-head comparison of how you are doing vs. your competitor at a macro level on specific social channels” (Kaushik 2015). Yet knowing what Hillary Clinton’s communications team was up to on social media could not offer what “the OCEAN Model and Big data analysis” did for the GOP (Grassegger & Krogerus 2017).

Cambridge Analytica claims every Trump message in the 2016 campaign was driven by psychometrics data. The success of psychographic data and ad targeting on social media has forever changed America’s presidential elections. Cyber psychoanalytic intelligence gathering points to an Orwellian future. If you don’t believe me, you should look into the Chinese government’s mobile app for everything from ordering takeout to personal banking. Do you hear the “fire bell in the night” (Jefferson, 1820)? It’s probably time we all take a hard look at the ethics of big data and our privacy rights.


Kaushik, A. (2015). Crushing It With Competitive Intelligence Analysis: Best Metrics, Reports. Occam’s Razor.


Grassegger H. & Krogerus M. (2017) The Data That Turned The World Upside Down. Motherboard Retrieved at


My Social Media Footprint

My first experience with social media was a dating site for singles in 2009. I had seen commercials about the sites on TV and I wanted to try one since my divorce had just become official. Not long after, a lady I met online, set up a Facebook page for me. At the time I was absolutely clueless about completing such a task. Facebook was very different back then. There were still a limited amount of users on the site and people were more willing to accept friend requests from strangers. In fact, I was able to connect with some really amazing people including entertainers and other public figures. I even webcammed with some and got to know them pretty well. These opportunities would have been unthinkable before the advent of social media.

On the other hand, I’ve also encountered the dark side of Facebook which includes my very own psychotic stalker. This is an old “friend” from high school that is more concerned with what I have and what I am doing than in accomplishing something positive with his own life. His antics have included everything from making fake profiles with my pictures to trying to destroy my personal and professional relationships. Yes, it really has been that bad and no, I won’t be upset if and when he dies. This has been going on for 20 years and social media has made it more diabolical than ever before. I recently began to pray that God will remove this man from my life forever. He is cancer.

As many of you know, much has changed in the way of social platforms since 2009. Most public figures are completely inaccessible except for on fan pages or Twitter and a great deal of the excitement of using the sites has worn off. Nowadays, I only add people I know unless I can verify who they are through a mutual acquaintance. I must say though, I have made some really good friends on Facebook and even had a few from Australia visit my home here in South Carolina.

While some of the fun of using social media sites or SMS is gone, the utility of the sites remain. As Lipshultz aptly states the “proliferation of smartphones has driven interests in mobile devices and media” and I am no different. I still use social media to stay connected with friends and family but now I use it primarily to get news and entertainment. I really enjoy the articles from Men’s Health, and Inc. and will often take the time to read a few throughout the day. I also obtain my national and international news from reasonably credible sources on my newsfeed such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

My SMS usage consists mostly of Facebook. I actually spend too much time on it quite honestly. To make matters worse, I now have Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat accounts. I also use YouTube to listen to music or for educational purposes. For example, I recently referred to YouTube videos to help me learn the data analysis software called SPSS for a statistics class I just completed. I am reluctant to admit that I also created a personal YouTube channel where I posted a couple of extremely amateur sports podcasts. They’re awful, don’t bother listening.

In 2014, I began blogging for a small sports news and commentary site called The Couch Rider Report and began strategically placing links to the articles on Facebook and Twitter. Later, I moved on to bigger sites affiliated with FanSided where I covered the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens. The idea was to build a small writing portfolio while gaining exposure through the electronic “word of mouth” or EWOM. Sometimes I would get as many as 25,000 clicks! The sites don’t pay, so I am no longer as interested in blogging for others as I had been. I do, however, have my football and racing articles posted on my SMS accounts in hopes of getting a paid writing position. I have learned a great deal about utilizing social media through my Master’s program at Purdue University and have a newfound respect for promoting my own “brand” on these platforms.

When it comes to branding on SMS, I recommend that communications practitioners employ marketing strategies that rely heavily on data mining or “big data collection” as it is referred to by Lipschultz. The best place for organizations to collect intel on me is Facebook because that is where I am most willing to open articles and patiently view ads. It came as no surprise to me that “The news saw the most social traction” in the Lehr study with 28,000 shares per month with entertainment being “the second highest performing vertical” with 17,000 shares. These are the categories that the majority of people are looking for in all forms of media for gratification.

As far as marketing on SMS is concerned, everyone hates the dreaded popup ad. I think the best advertisements include clever comedy skits in short videos because they are effective with a wide audience. Who doesn’t like to laugh? Currently, the most impressive branded content on social media is being delivered through storytelling. I am actually really looking forward to the new SMS platforms that will offer a virtual reality experience. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what I think because Millennials are the new baby boomer generation and they rule the digital world of social media.


Lehr, A. (2015). New data: What types of content perform best on social media? Hubspot Blogs.

Do the Barcelona Principles Measure up?

The world is experiencing a “digital transformation of marketing” and the largest contribution the Barcelona Principles can offer in the current business environment is on social media

The Barcelona Principles were updated in 2015 by the International Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). The 2.0 updates are as follows:

  • Goal Setting and Measurement are Fundamental to Communication and Public Relations.
  • Measuring Communication Outcomes is Recommended Versus Only Measuring Outputs.
  • The Effect on Organizational Performance Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible.
  • Measurement and Evaluation Require Both Qualitative and Quantitative Methods.
  • AVEs are Not the Value of Communication.
  • Social Media Can and Should be Measured Consistently with Other Media Channels.
  • Measurement and Evaluation Should be Transparent, Consistent, and Valid (Leggetter, B. 2015).

It turns out The Barcelona Principles are more of a vague set of guidelines than a solid foundation on which to build a strategic communication plan. Principle 1 states, “Goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communication and public relations” (Leggetter, 2015). It is hard to disagree with the importance of goal setting and measurement in the pursuit of objectives. Yet, the utilization of metrics is not as well established amongst public relations practitioners as you might think. In a recent PR Weekly survey, the CEO of Paine Publishing, Katie Paine, stated, “a lot of PR people are not exposed to measuring …unless they actively seek it out” (Arenstein, 2016). This is unacceptable and a clearly defined set of principles can help raise the bar on what should be standard operating procedure throughout the industry.

Project managers in public relations and marketing need established benchmarks upon which to measure progress. Timelines and budgets are critical components of a credible campaign and they must include a sound cost-benefits analysis. As the authors of The Global Public Relations Handbook, aptly stated: “practitioners need to quantify public relations results for bottom-line scripted executives who are accustomed to marginal analysis” (Sriramesh & Vercic, 2009). When an organization spends finite financial resources to promote a message or brand, expenditure of those funds must be justified. The difficulty of this challenge is echoed repeatedly throughout the business world.

I learned the difficult truths about return on investment (ROI) and key performance indicators (KPI) in my early twenties as a young entrepreneur. I’ve always had a passion for branding but that passion caused me to naively overspend on creative, but costly advertisements that were ineffective. What I needed to succeed as a general contractor in a small town atmosphere, was a credible and well-established reputation– something flashy, expensive advertisements cannot provide. My lack of an adequate market analysis had provided a painful, but important lesson. “Credibility and relevance of the medium to the stakeholder or audience” is critical to successful ROI in public relations! As it turned out, word of mouth was the most powerful marketing tool I could ever have used and is even more so in the world of social media.

Whether your organization is a nonprofit or commercial enterprise, large or small in size, success comes from building mutually beneficial relationships and positive electronic word of mouth (eWOM). There is no better place to build mutually beneficial relationships through symmetrical dialogue than social media. The world is currently experiencing a “digital transformation of marketing” and the largest contribution the Barcelona Principles can offer in the current business environment is on social media (Lamberton & Stephen, 2016).  Digital platforms are rapidly becoming the most influential media outlet available. Not only are these platforms cost-efficient methods of advertising as far as ROI, they are also the most promising area for the application of the data mining because of their built-in measurability.

The internet provides a treasure trove of information where computer software can gather both qualitative and quantitative data for public relations and marketing activities (Yang & Kang, 2015). The global surge in internet and smartphone use will “push marketers to develop more complex social media measurement tools and techniques” (Lipschultz, 2015). Multi-national corporations such as Nestle are currently using 24-hour media rooms to create engaging online content and to track customer interaction in real time on social media sites (SMS), such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and SnapChat. The information is then used to “strategically segment and prioritize publics” (Sriramesh & Vercic, 2009). The bad news is that the PR industry is struggling to train competent practitioners on how to identify and measure key performance indicators. The good news is that “absolutely everything that happens in the digital sphere can be tracked, measured, and analyzed in all kinds of interesting ways” (Concannon, 2015).

The Barcelona Principles are a perfect fit for social media, but they are too broad in their present form. The designers did provide a document that has the industry talking about the importance of measurement. The problem is, it doesn’t provide a clear formula of how to effectively obtain those statistics, especially if they are to hold up under the framework’s demand for transparency and repetition. Journalist Lance Concannon summed it up best in his article entitled The one thing missing from the Barcelona Principles: Answers, “You would think, this update might include some helpful guidance on which digital tools and online metrics can be used to add more data-science thinking to PR measurement, but alas no”.  It doesn’t take a communications expert to determine The Barcelona Principles in their present form are more common sense than anything else.

These guidelines are a basic set of blueprints that lack a clear endorsement of the software and methods needed to accurately measure communication strategies. Computer technology and digital media are rapidly providing answers, but the industry needs to do a better job producing qualified experts. As I mentioned previously, social media is currently the most effective platform for PR campaigns in the 21st century. Not only is digital the most cost-effective method to reach target audiences, it is also where the most accurate output and outcome data can be gathered. Leggetter (2015) noted under Principle 7, “All measurement should use valid methods and be reliable and replicable in the case of quantitative methods and trustworthy in the case of qualitative methods”. I believe the Barcelona Principles’ demand for precise measurements is only obtainable with definitive data mining software, clearly defined statistical procedures and most importantly competent practitioners.


Leggetter, B. (2015). Barcelona Principles 2.0. PR News. Retrieved from the PR News Online website:

Concannon, L. (2015). The one thing missing from the Barcelona Principles: answers. Retrieved from the PR Week website:

Lamberton, C., & Stephen, A. T. (2016). A Thematic Exploration of Digital, Social Media, and Mobile Marketing: Research Evolution from 2000 to 2015 and an Agenda for Future Inquiry. Journal Of Marketing80(6), 146-172.

Arenstein, S. (2016). PR News Measurement Survey: Awareness of Barcelona Principles Trending Upward Slowly. Retrieved from the PR News Online website:

Lipschultz, J. (2015).  Social media communication concepts, practices, data, law and ethics.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Yang, K. C., & Kang, Y. (2015). Exploring Big Data and Privacy in Strategic Communication Campaigns: A Cross-Cultural Study of Mobile Social Media Users’ Daily Experiences. International Journal of Strategic Communication9(2), 87-101.

Sriramesh, K., & Vercic, D. (2009). The global public relations handbook. New York, NY: Routledge.


M Live: Marriott’s 24-Hour War Room

My favorite brand is Marriott International. I grew up in the Washington DC area where the family business had its humble beginnings as an A&W root beer stand in 1927. I first learned about the hotel chain in the 1970s from my parents while my father was working to refurbish Marriott’s original property built in 1957 in Arlington, VA. Recently, the company has undergone a massive expansion by purchasing competitors and creating new brands for niche markets. In the process, Marriott has grown to become the world’s largest hotel conglomerate with 5,700 properties and 30 brands in 110 countries around the world.
I had the honor and privilege of meeting the company’s CEO J.W. Marriott in the early 1980s. Since then, I have enthusiastically followed the hotel chains growth and I continue to go out of my way to stay in their properties whenever I travel. During the last 30 years, I have witnessed Marriott’s advertising and public relations campaigns shift from legacy marketing efforts, in print and television, to complex integrated strategies that include cutting edge campaigns “built upon the role of quality content in developing reputation and relationships” on social media platforms (Lipschultz, 2015). Through my research for this Masters program, I have discovered that Marriott’s award winning strategies are the envy of many multinational corporations and are second to none in the lodging and travel industry.
In 2014 Marriott launched its first 24-hour global media studio called M Live in Bethesda, MD to engage with stakeholders in real time. Since that initial launch, the company has opened four more command centers in Miami, London, Hong Kong and Dubai. The M Live mission is to create interactive content that “leverages pop culture and contains micro-nuggets of information, humor, commentary, or inspiration” (Lipschultz, 2015). Marriott’s branded content engages consumers on Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. The campaigns include, but are not limited to, short videos such as the “Two Bellmen” series that are extremely well produced, offering entertaining plotlines filmed in various Marriott hotels from LA to Dubai. The campaigns also use social media influencers like Taryn Southern in the series “Do Not Disturb” featuring celebrity guests in light hearted interviews to promote Marriott’s new economy brand Moxy Hotels. The videos are available on YouTube and various digital platforms on the internet. I have become a devoted follower and analyst of this social media campaign even though its specific target audience is the Millennial demographic.
Needless to say, I am extremely impressed with the in-depth understanding and professionalism displayed in the presentation of these communication efforts. The powerful electronic word of mouth endorsements seen amongst online travel communities has only served to solidify my brand loyalty and increase my desire to travel. It is clear that Marriott practitioners understand “the important role that consumer reviews (on social media) play in the process” (Lipschultz, 2015). One of the things that impressed me most is that while many companies have ignored or even pulled away from SnapChat, Marriott had the vision to invest in a strong presence in the platform that now has 100 million users daily and is the most popular social media outlet amongst young travelers. This goes against the conventional wisdom of the 85% of the marketers in Stelzner’s report that stated they have “no plans to use SnapChat” (Stelzner, 2014). Marriott’s SnapChat campaign includes a series of three-minute videos showing young social media influencers traveling to various locations and casually sharing their adventures while staying at Marriott Hotels. The Millennial vloggers are powerful brand ambassadors among a market segment prone to research and make purchasing decisions based on the experiences shared by their peers online.
At the pinnacle of Marriott’s social media marketing strategy is the Marriott Rewards program. Marriott Rewards offers an extraordinary, unparalleled travel experience while simultaneously creating positive user content. As Lipschultz states, online customer relationship management (CRM) “can take advantage of communication tools by literally reaching out to nearby customers with new offers” (Lipschultz, 2015). Marriott is able to provide individualized service such as champagne for newlyweds in real time through geo-fencing software partnership with Hyp3r. The Rewards mobile app for phones just keeps giving as customer’s positive online comments are compensated with perks created to develop brand loyalty. The app offers everything from the keyless entry for the tech savvy consumer to points for participants that include free nights, and reduced pricing on exciting travel adventures. Marriott’s points program “rewards brand loyalty through a special program that has linkage to their social media marketing program” (Lipschultz, 2015).  Marriott’s campaign does just that and they presently do it better than any of their competitors.
My recommendation for the company to improve their social media presence is to continue to “approach social media as a viable business intelligence platform”(Lipschultz, 2015). Marriott International has the financial resources to experiment with what works and what doesn’t and adjust their campaigns accordingly. It is through the metrics of data mining software such as HootSuite, Narativ, and Hyp3r that social media can offer key “insights into consumer opinions and shared experiences” (Lipschultz, 2015). In this manner, the world’s largest provider of hospitality services can gain their greatest return on investment and convert the maximum number of tweets, likes, and shares into sustainable profits.


Lipschultz, J. H. (2015). Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics. New York, NY: Routledge.
Stelzner, M.A. (2014). 2014 Social media marketing industry report. Retrieved from the Social Media Examiner website:

L.A. Rams: 5 Keys to Winning the NFC West

The L.A. Rams’ future looks as bright as a summer day on the Sunset Strip. Owner Stan Kroenke has added one of football’s hottest rookie quarterbacks to a backfield that already boasts the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

A stout defense and a punishing running game are perfect conditions to start a rookie quarterback. This year Los Angeles has all three. Rookie QB Jared Goff can start the season as a game manager but he will need his arm to put this team in the playoffs.

With good luck and a lot of hard work, the franchise can win the NFC West in a triumphant return to Los Angeles.

The Rams face uncertainty under center. Jeff Fisher can turn to Case Keenum if things begin to fall apart. Keenum played admirably last year and led the Rams to their first victory in Seattle since 2004. But the team needs to see what they have in Jared Goff.

General manager Les Snead shelled out two first-round picks, two second-rounders, and a third-round pick to the Titans to procure 6’4 215 lb Goff out of the University of California. If the rookie does start,  it is not unreasonable to believe that he can turn the team around in his first year.

One need look no further than Joe Flacco for evidence. In 2008, Flacco started all 16 regular season games in his first season and took a team that went 5-11 in the previous year to 11-5 and the AFC Championship.

Goff does not need to be Peyton Manning, but he needs to protect the football and make some plays. Luckily he will have Todd Gurley to help him make a successful transition to the pros.

Todd Gurley makes winning a division title this year possible. Like Goff, some questioned the Rams’ rationale in drafting the tailback tenth overall in 2015. In truth, the pick was a grand slam home run. Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards, averaging 4.8 yds per carry, even though he missed the first three games of the season.

With ten touchdowns and only one fumble, the former Bulldog became an overnight sensation. He has had over a year to train and condition in the Rams system and if the second year veteran stays healthy, Los Angeles can expect an even greater contribution from their star running back; 1,500 yards rushing for Todd in 2016 isn’t an unrealistic projection.

His mere presence in the backfield improves the play of the offensive line; taking pressure off the rookie quarterback and opening up the passing game. If Goff can protect the football and work in sync with a healthy Gurley, the Rams will go far this season.

In 2015, the running game was the only bright spot on an offense that ranked last in the league. The Rams have a tough schedule, but if the team can make moderate progress on offense, the franchise could go 11-5 versus last year’s 7 -9.

Wide receiver Tavon Austin makes plays all over the field and is ready for a break out season. Los Angeles does lack a speedy deep threat, but the front office selected two tight ends and two wide receivers in an attempt to bolster the passing attack.

The team got steals in both  Tyler Higbee, out of Western Kentucky, and University of South Carolina standout Pharoh Cooper. Higbee is one of the best pass-catching TE’s to come out of this year’s draft.

He had a solid career at WKU where he racked up 14 touchdowns on 68 catches for 1,054 yards. Cooper was South Carolinas’ MVP and scored eight touchdowns on 66 catches for 973 yards while playing with three mediocre quarterbacks.

He is a play maker, and should not be underestimated.  It will be critical for Goff and his fellow rookies to build chemistry with Gurley, Austin, and the offensive line. If these players can gel with the veterans, they can do enough to win close games.

The Rams have gambled with a reload on defense this year, but defense is what Coach Fisher does best.  The departure of DE Chris Long and LB James Laurinaitis was a surprise, but both Long and Laurinaitis’s production was down.

In a move to add speed and youth, both players have been replaced by what looks to be upgrades in DE, William Hayes and OLB Alec Ogletree. Ogletree will move inside as the Rams’ new signal caller.

The losses of CB Jenoris Jenkins and S Rodney McLeod are a concern but their replacements will play behind one of the leagues’ best defensive lines led by Aaron Donald, who finished second last year to J.J. Watt for Defensive Player of the Year.

Look for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to have CB E.J. Gaines and LaMarcus Joyner, well prepared to make the transition to starters. The Rams’ defense will continue to be the strength of the team in 2016.

Good defense and special teams cover a multitude of sins on offense and this year will be no different. While punter Johnny Hekker had another pro bowl season the Rams lost five critical games because of breakdowns on special teams.

The unit suffered from penalties that negated big plays from Tavon Austin on punt returns but the inaccuracy of kicker Greg Zuerlein was the most costly. Zuerlein has a strong leg and did well on kickoffs but lacked accuracy missing 10 out of 30 field goal attempts.

As a result, the four-year veteran had the worst average in the NFL. While Zuerlein has re-signed this off-season. The team brought in rookie free agent Taylor Bertolet out of Texas A&M to compete for the position.

In a schedule filled with staunch competition, there will be little room for error. Los Angeles must avoid mental mistakes and capitalize on every opportunity to score points if they are to win their division.

Before saying it is an impossible feat for this roster to win one of the leagues strongest divisions, remember the Rams went 4-2 last year against its NFC West opponents sweeping the Seahawks and splitting wins with Arizona Cardinals while starting two different quarterbacks.

However, the team’s schedule is ranked the third most difficult in the NFL in 2016. Los Angeles will need to play their very best football on offense, defense and special teams.

Success in these areas is key to Goff leading his new team to victory. Coach Fisher and company will need good luck to win the division title but as the saying goes, “Good luck is the result of hard work and preparation.”

Embrace the Pain and Live for the Fight

As I enter my 3rd year of sobriety, I cannot help but feel a great deal of gratitude. I lived through my addictions and have had the good fortune to land on my feet.

I have been given a gift. Because of this, I have come to the realization that I want to help others who suffer from similar circumstances. There are wonderful people, both children, and adults, that are destroying themselves. Many, if not all, suffer quietly with mental and emotional disorders. They spend a great deal of their time and resources trying to escape their demons by self-medicating. As a result, their lives become a tangled mass of wreckage.

The good news is that recovery is possible. Just over two years ago I was near death and the old adage of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” hit me hard. In response, I had the overwhelming desire to break habits I developed as a 15-year-old boy. The party lifestyle and all its ugly consequences became my number one enemy. I suddenly realized that for years I had surrounded myself with people that I only thought were my friends.

As the fog lifted and I could once again think clearly, it became apparent that they were more enemies than anything else. Furthermore, along the path of self-destruction, I had lost the trust of the people that truly loved me. At the end of our lives, these people become the only things that matter. When I was finally done getting high, it was the love of real friends and my family’s trust that I set out to earn back.

The path to sanity is different for everyone but for me, success involved daily prayer. I had always prayed, even when I was not living my life right and despite my poor choices, the Lord responded and protected me.

The way I understand it, addicts that are in recovery need a “Higher Power.” Mine is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was so addicted to cocaine that the only shot I had at happiness was by turning to Him. When I did, I was able to slowly lick my wounds and heal. For a long time, it appeared as though no progress was being made. It is now clear that I was making headway with every passing hour. I recall driving home from church one day and suddenly having the overwhelming desire to get drunk and score some rock.  I prayed for strength that day in the car and as I did, I was inspired to remember the pain and agony that comes at the end of a binge. The thought of the consequences made me shudder.

In the past, getting high felt like a soothing balm. That is the incredible lie that addicts believe and it causes us to return time and time again to a path that leads to despair.

Thankfully, the overwhelming urge to relapse passed. As I made my way home, I felt a message in my heart and mind say, “Each time you overcome these temptations and make good choices you will become more powerful.” That gave me great hope and still does to this day. I see it happening as my life and health steadily improve.

Because I cleaned up I was able to complete a Bachelor’s degree that I had started long ago. More importantly, I was able to mend relationships that I had nearly destroyed. I haven’t attended Alcoholics Anonymous or its equivalent called Narcotics Anonymous but I don’t knock these programs whatsoever. They have done tremendous good in the lives of many people. I have read some of their literature and the parts about God ring true to me.

As I struggled to stay sober, I learned about the healing brain and PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal). This is a whole new battle of overcoming depression, bad memories, and sickness that seems to come out of nowhere. The feelings of discouragement are brutal. These symptoms come long after the pain of physical withdrawal is over. It is during these times that those in recovery are at the greatest danger of relapsing. You have no other choice but to ride out the storm like a ship on the high seas, being tossed to and fro in the midst of a hurricane.

My symptoms associated with PAWS started about six months after I was clean and sober and may continue for years. I have them constantly. You can and will get through them though if you reach deep down inside and tap into the reservoirs of strength that exist in your soul. I must mention that a doctor’s care is necessary. I recommend a good therapist as well. We, as addicts, tend to carry many years of trauma and emotional pain and it is imperative to clean all that up if we are to return to anything close to normalcy.

I understand that religion isn’t in vogue these days but I read the Bible and pray daily. This is critical to my ability to withstand the promptings to return to cocaine. These are what I like to call “the moments of truth.” This is when I have to decide. What do I really want in life? Do I want love or people that use me? Do I really want a shot at happiness and am I willing to pass through “the seasons of suffering” to get it?

Have you ever noticed that anything really special in life comes with hard work? Sobriety has not been easy but it has been well worth it. My advice is to embrace the pain and live for the fight.

As for now. I am trying to figure out the best way to help as many people as I can to find the plan of happiness. But if this testimony and message only helps one person, then it has been well worth writing. I have realized through all of this that faith, gratitude, patience and hard work are the tools that can be used by anyone trying to make positive changes in their life. These key elements apply especially well to any addiction, whether it be food, porn, or as in my case cocaine.

I started out as a young person trying to relieve discouragement and anxiety. Little did I realize that the choice would eventually lead to a journey into hell. I feel strongly at this point that the best thing to do with this experience is to use it to help others and try to make the world a better place. Two thoughts that are never found in the depths of addiction.

Tim Richmond Storms Back

NASCAR began to grow rapidly in the late 1980’s and drivers like Tim Richmond are the reason the sport exploded in popularity. Richmond wasn’t groomed for racing in his teens like so many of today’s drivers, but there is no denying he was born to drive. His natural ability on the track is well documented and somewhat infamous in old school racing circles. Whether it was at the Indy 500 where he won “Rookie of the Race” in 1980 or Winston Cup where he finished 12th in his debut, Richmond was always off to a quick start. Tim was a black sheep of sorts in the Cup Series and his flashy persona was unwelcome at times. He would show up at the track with long hair driving a Harley Davidson, lived on a boat in Miami and wore Armani suits. He was a stark contrast to a sport dominated by good ole boys with deep southern roots- nothing against the good ole boys, they are the foundation of stock car racing. While Tim alienated some of the more no-nonsense personalities in the pits, power brokers on the circuit took notice of what he could do with a race car and word soon spread that Richmond was limited only by the lower budget teams he drove for.

Hendrick Sees Gold

The racing gods smiled on Richmond in 1986 when Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports signed him to drive the Folgers Coffee Machine. The move proved to be a good fit for both men and Tim had a season that legends are made of. As a matter of fact, the movie Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall, was based loosely on the experiences of this dynamic duo in the Cup series.  Much like today, Hendrick offered the best equipment in the business and Richmond drove with reckless abandon in what would be his last full season. When the team finally began to hit on all cylinders, Tim won seven races finishing third in points with 8 poles and 13 top fives to his name. Richmond had more wins that year than any other driver, including the 1986 series champion, Dale

The Flame That Burns Twice As Bright 

Tim lived the same way he drove; when in doubt he hit the gas. It is easy to see why his driving style was compared to that of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. Driver Mark Martin, who totaled 40 cup wins, said of Richmond “When I first started racing, I thought, man, Tim Richmond is the coolest. I want to be like Tim Richmond. He was what being famous was all about. He had the women, the looks, the clothes and that kind of wild, crazy attitude that only super famous people have. And he could drive, too. He truly was one of the greatest that ever was.” Orlando Sentinel – Juliet Macor


At the peak of his career, Richmond missed the first part of the 1987 season to deal with “double pneumonia”, later revealed to be the HIV virus.  In a season in which Tim was considered a favorite to win the championship, he was only able to drive in 8 races. His final victory on the road course in Riverside, CA, is forever etched in my memory. The Budweiser 400 fell on Fathers Day and Tim tearfully dedicated the race to his Dad in Victory Lane. I remember rushing to the store to pick up a magazine with “Tim Richmond Storms Back!” on the cover. I was thrilled. I carefully removed the article and still have it to this day. His comeback was inspirational. Little did his fans know it would be short and bittersweet.


Legacy In Question?

Richmond stormed back into the Winston Cup Series in the spring of 1987 and quickly won Pocono and Riverside back to back before his season was again cut short. At Michigan, the rest of the cup drivers were said to have lobbied to stop Tim from driving because he was rumored to be on drugs. NASCAR deemed Richmond “physically unfit to drive” and Tim was compelled to end his season abruptly.  Not long after, NASCAR created a drug testing provision for all drivers. Richmond’s test failed due to high levels of over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen. The test was later retracted after a lawsuit was filed on Tim’s behalf. So much was unknown about AIDS at that time and NASCAR was right to be concerned. However, the manner in which the rising star was treated left much to be desired. Being blocked from racing by a falsified drug test added insult to injury at a time of intense fear and uncertainty for the 34-year-old Richmond. The fake test is a black eye on what is otherwise one of Americas great sporting leagues. Richmond’s legacy in NASCAR is both notorious and controversial. Kyle Petty said of Tim “He is almost like a comet that blew through here and everybody said Ooh! Then it’s gone, and you really wonder if you saw it in the first place. Tim Richmond was one of the greatest drivers this sport has ever seen, but he was in the wrong era for us for this sport. He was ten or fifteen years ahead of his time.” Richmond had demons; He lived fast and died young. Despite his short career, he is recognized as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history.