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10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story


I initially wanted to call this book The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole. However, that title was ultimately deemed inappropriatefor a man whose day job requires him to abide by FCC decency standards.

It’s true, though. The voice in my head can be a total pill. I’d venture to guess yours can, too. Most of us aren’t really aware of the voice in our head. I certainly wasn’t—at least not before I embarked on the weird little odyssey described in this book.

Nonetheless, the internal narrator is the most intimate part of our lives. For most of us, it is our lives. It chases us out of bed in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments, a frittata of toxic impatience, anticipatory annoyance, and outdated assumptions. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversations with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes, it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

If you’d told me when I first arrived in New York City, to start working in network news, that I’d be using meditation to defang the voice in my head—or that I’d ever write a whole book about it—I would have laughed at you. Until just the past few years, I’d always thought of meditation as uniquely odious, the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music. Moreover, since I have the attention span of a six month-old yellow Lab, I figured it was something I could never do anyway. I assumed, given the constant looping, buzzing, and fizzing of my thoughts that “clearing my mind” wasn’t an option.

But then came a strange and unplanned series of events, involving war zones, megachurches, self-help gurus, Paris Hilton, the Dalai Lama, and ten days of silence that, in a flash, went from the most annoying to the most profound and blubbery experience of my life. As a result of all of this, I came to realize that my preconceptions about meditation were, in fact, misconceptions.

Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, the result of the fact that its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus who promise immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.

Once you get the hang of it, the practice can create just enough space in your head so that when you get angry or annoyed, you are less likely to take the bait and act on it. There’s even science to back this up—an explosion of new research, complete with colorful MRI scans, demonstrating that meditation can essentially rewire your brain. This science challenges the common assumption that our levels of happiness, resilience, and kindness are set from birth. Many of us labor under the delusion that we’re permanently stuck with all of the difficult parts of our personalities—that we are “hot-tempered,”

or “shy,” or “sad”—and that these are fixed, immutable traits. We now know that many of the attributes we value most are, in fact, skills, which can be trained the same way you build your body in the gym.

This is radical, hopeful stuff. In fact, as I discovered, this new neuroscience has led to the flowering of an elite subculture of executives, athletes and marines who are using meditation to control their emotions, improve their focus, and kick their addiction to technology. It’s even been called the “new caffeine.” I suspect that if meditation could be denuded of all the spiritual preening and straight-out-of-a-fortune-cookie lingo such as “sacred spaces,” “divine mother,” and “holding your emotions with love and tenderness,” it would be attractive to many more millions of smart, skeptical, and ambitious people who would never otherwise go near it.

One of the questions I hear most often from skeptics is: If I quiet my internal monologue, will I go soft? Some think they need to nurse a constant low-grade depression in order to be creative, or to compulsively think through all the angles in order to be successful.

For the past four years, I’ve been road testing meditation in the crucible of one of the most competitive environments imaginable, television news. I’m here to tell you, it’s totally doable. More than that, it can give you a real edge—and, not for nothing, it might even make you nicer in the process. Yes, as you will see, I did stumble into a few embarrassing pitfalls along the way. However, with the benefit of my experience, you should be able to avoid them.

What I’m attempting to do in this book is demystify meditation, and show that if it can work for someone like me, it can probably work for you, too. This requires inviting you into my brain, which is not always pretty. The voice in the head takes different forms in different people. Mine—at its worst—has me toggling between maniacally overthinking things and recklessly failing to think at all. My chosen profession, which I love, seems genetically engineered to put both of these tendencies on steroids.

And that’s where this story begins: on the job, in the early part of my career, when I let the voice in my head run amok. I was an eager, curious, and ambitious cub reporter who got swept up, and swept away. You’re about to see me cut free from my moorings, and having taken leave of my common sense. And it all culminated in the single most humiliating moment of my life.


Chapter One – Air Hunger

According to the Nielsen ratings data, 5.019 million people saw me lose my mind.

It happened on June 7, 2004, on the set of Good Morning America. I was wearing my favorite new tie and a thick coating of makeup. My hair was overly coiffed and puffy. The bosses had asked me to fill in for my colleague Robin Roberts as the News Reader. The job basically entailed coming on and anchoring brief news updates at the top of each hour.

I was sitting in Robin’s spot, at a small, satellite anchor desk inside the second story of ABC’s glass-encased studio in New York’s Times Square. On the other side of the room was the main anchor desk, home to the show’s cohosts, the avuncular Charles Gibson and the elegant Diane Sawyer.

Charlie tossed it over to me: “We’re gonna go now to Dan Harris, who’s at the news desk. Dan?” At this point, I was supposed to read a series of six “voice-overs”— short news items, about twenty seconds apiece, over which the control room would roll video clips.

It started out fine. “Good morning, Charlie and Diane. Thank you,” I said in my best morning-anchor voice, chipper, yet authoritative.

But then, right in the middle of the second voice-over, it hit. Out of nowhere, I felt like I was being stabbed in the brain with raw animal fear. A paralytic wave of panic rolled up through my shoulders, over the top of my head, then melted down the front of my face. The universe was collapsing in on me. My heart started to gallop. My mouth dried up. My palms oozed sweat.

I knew I had four more stories to read, an eternity, with no break and no place to hide—no sound bites or pretaped stories or field correspondents to toss to, which would have allowed me to regroup and catch my breath.

As I began the third story, about cholesterol drugs, I was starting to lose my ability to speak, gasping as I waged an internal battle against the wave of howling terror, all of it compounded by the knowledge that the whole debacle was being beamed out live.

You’re on national television.
This is happening now. Right now.
Everyone is seeing this, dude.
Do something. DO something.

I tried to fight through it, with mixed results. The official transcript of the broadcast reflects my descent into incoherence: “Researchers report people who take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins for at least five years may also lower their risk for cancer, but it’s too early to . . . to prescribe statins slowly for cancer production.”

It was at this point, shortly after my reference to “cancer production,” with my face drained of blood and contorted with tics, that I knew I had to come up with something drastic to get myself out of the situation.

My on-air meltdown was the direct result of an extended run of mindlessness, a period of time during which I was focused on advancement and adventure, to the detriment of pretty much everything else in my life. It began on March 13, 2000: my first day at ABC News.

I was twenty-eight years old, terrified, and wearing an unfortunate double-breasted suit as I walked through the high-ceilinged entryway lined with pictures of such luminaries as Peter Jennings, Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Walters (all now my colleagues, apparently), then took the steep, stately escalator up into the mouth of the building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

They made me go to the basement that day, to some dingy security office to have my picture taken for my new identification card. In the photo, I looked so young that a colleague would later joke that a wider shot might reveal me to be holding a balloon.

That I had made it to ABC at all seemed like a big misunderstanding, or maybe a cruel joke. During the preceding seven years, as I toiled in local news, my dream had always been to “get to the network”—which was how people in the farm leagues referred to it—but I had assumed it wouldn’t happen until I was maybe forty and looked old enough to operate a motor vehicle.

I had started in TV news straight out of college, with the vague goal of pursuing a career that had a modicum of glitz and also did not require me to do any math. My parents were doctors, but I didn’t have the aptitude or the attention span for med school. So, despite some initial misgivings on the part of my folks, I took a job at an NBC station in Bangor, Maine (one of the smallest television markets in the country—number 154 out of 210). The gig was part-time, paid $5.50 an hour, and involved writing scripts for the anchorwoman, then operating the studio camera during a broadcast called Alive at 5:30. On my first day, the producer who was assigned to train me wheeled around from his electric typewriter and matter-of-factly announced, “This is not a glamorous job.” He was right. Covering tire fires and snowstorms in rural Maine—not to mention living in a tiny apartment on the first floor of an elderly woman’s house and eating mac and cheese nearly every night—was profoundly unsexy. Nevertheless, I loved it immediately.

After a few months of badgering my bosses to put me on camera, they relented, and I became a reporter and an anchor, even though I was barely twenty-two and only had one blue blazer, a hand-me-down from my dad. It didn’t take long for me to know that this job was what I would be doing for the rest of my life. I found the craft itself fascinating—especially the challenge of writing stories that were meant to be spoken aloud and matched to pictures. But more than that, I came to see that journalism was both a career and a calling. I delighted in the opportunity to get intrigued by an obscure but  important subject, and then devise ways to teach viewers something that might be useful or illuminating. Most of all, I took enormous pleasure in the fact that my new position gave me license to march up to important people and ask impertinent questions.

Broadcast news is a tricky beast, though—because aside from the high-minded stuff about holding powerful interests accountable and using the power of the medium for good, there is also unquestionably something deeply and irrationally affirming about getting your mug on TV. Watch how excited people get at baseball games when their faces flash on the big screen. Now imagine doing that for a living. My colleague in Bangor was correct that much of the actual work of being a TV reporter—sitting through interminable news conferences, spending hours in a news van with an irascible cameraman, chasing down cops for sound bites—was not glamorous, but as I moved to larger markets, first to Portland, Maine, and then to Boston, the pay got better and the stories bigger, and the visceral thrill of being recognized in bars and on line at the bank became an integral part of my self-image.

I remember my mother, a repository of wisdom, once telling me offhandedly at some point during my youth that she thought anyone who would run for president must have a hole on their inside that was so big it could never be filled. To the extent that I ever allowed myself to reflect on my drive to be on TV, I always found her comment haunting.

Seven years after that first job in Bangor, I was working at a twenty-four-hour cable news channel in the Boston area when I got a call, seemingly out of nowhere, indicating that I might be on the cusp of landing the big fish. My agent told me that executives at ABC News had seen my tapes and wanted to talk.

They hired me as the co-anchor of ABC’s loose and scrappy overnight newscast, World News Now, which airs from two to four in the morning, to an audience consisting primarily of insomniacs, nursing mothers, and college students hopped up on ADD drugs. By the time I reported for duty, though, on that day in March of 2000, the guy I was supposed to replace, Anderson Cooper, had decided he didn’t want to leave just yet. Not knowing what else to do with me, the bosses gave me a chance to file some stories for the weekend edition of our evening newscast, World News Tonight. As far as I was concerned, this was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. Just a few weeks prior, I’d been reporting for an audience of tens of thousands of New Englanders; now I was broadcasting to millions of people all over the country. Then it got even better: I was asked to file my first story for the Big Show, the weekday edition of the evening news, anchored by Peter Jennings himself.

I idolized Jennings. My whole on-air style was a straight-to-video version of his. I had studied his intricate anchor desk ballet—the masterful mix of slow leans, head nods, and arched eyebrows. I admired his ability to be smooth, and yet emote without being mawkish. He was the epitome of the voice-of-God anchorman, with a personal mystique to boot: the 007 looks, the four wives, the rumored celebrity trysts.

He was the colossus who sat astride ABC News. Internally, his broadcast was referred to simply as “The Show,” almost as if we didn’t have other major broadcasts like 20/20, GMA, and Nightline. He was also the object of bottomless fear. I hadn’t met him yet, but I’d already heard the stories about his volcanic temper. Because of his reputation for eating his young, the executives deliberately scheduled my first appearance on his show for July 4, a day they knew he would be on vacation.

I did a feature story about baby boomers going back to work as lifeguards because all the young people were taking jobs with dotcom companies. When it aired, the show’s producers seemed satisfied with the piece, but I never heard from Jennings himself. I didn’t know if he’d been watching, or if he even knew who I was.

A few weeks later, I was at the apartment I shared with my younger brother, Matt, riding the rather dorky exercise bike we’d set up in the living room, when my landline, cell phone, and pager went off in rapid succession. I got off the bike and checked the pager. It read, “4040.” This was the extension for the World News Tonight “rim,” the area where Peter and his senior producers spent the day putting together the show. I called in, and the young assistant who answered the phone put me on hold. Then a man picked up and said, “I think we need to start covering Ralph Nader. His campaign is picking up speed. Can you do it?” I looked over at Matt and mouthed, “I think this is Peter Jennings.”

The next day, I was on a plane to Madison, Wisconsin, to interview Nader and file a piece for that night’s broadcast. It was a hectic, harrowing process, exacerbated by the fact that, late in the day, Peter requested a series of significant changes to the script I had written. We managed to “make air,” but just barely. When I got back to my hotel room and dialed into the Internet, I saw that I had a two-word email from Peter: “Call me.” So I did. Immediately. I was expecting him to ream me out for writing a subpar script, but the first thing he said was, “Wear lighter-colored shirts.” He then proceeded to inform me that he’d been named to People’s Best Dressed list based entirely on clothes he ordered from catalogues.

That sealed it. For the next five years, Peter was my mentor and, sometimes, tormentor. Anchoring the overnight show was now off the table. I had, improbably, become a network news correspondent. They gave me a set of business cards and my very first office, on the fourth floor of the building, alongside five other correspondents, all men several decades older than I was. Our offices were arrayed along a catwalk that overlooked the set from which Peter anchored his show. One morning, shortly after I moved in, I got off the elevator and the other reporters were huddled together, chatting. None of them would speak to me. It was awkward and a little bit intimidating, but if this was the price I had to pay for scoring this job a full decade before I thought it could happen, it was totally worth it.

Working for Peter was like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth: thrilling, but not particularly safe. He was frightening for a lot of reasons: he was about a foot taller than me, he was subject to sudden and unpredictable mood swings, and—even though he was originally from Canada—he was a bona fide American icon, which made it surreally mortifying when he yelled at you. He seemed to take pleasure in embarrassing me, preferably in front of as many people as possible.

Once, his assistant called me down to the rim, saying Peter needed to discuss something. When I arrived, Peter looked up, did a double take and, eyeing my plaid jacket, said, “You’re not going to wear that on television, are you?” Everyone laughed uncomfortably. I turned fuchsia, and muttered something about how of course I wasn’t. I may have subsequently burned it.

But the real flash point—as it was with every correspondent—was the script-writing process. Peter was an exacting and irascible editor, and he often made changes at the last minute, sending producers and correspondents into frenzied scrambles minutes before airtime. Even when he affected a more-in-sadness-than-in-anger tone to his revisions, I strongly suspected that he actually enjoyed the power play. He had a set of semi-rational writing rules that every correspondent learned to obey over the course of a particularly rigorous hazing period: don’t start a sentence with “but”; don’t say “like” when you can say “such as”; never, ever use the word “meanwhile.”

By no means were all of Peter’s standards arbitrary, though. After observing and interacting with him for a while, it became clear that he cared deeply about this work. He saw his job as a privilege—a sacred trust with the audience, and a vital part of a functioning democracy. He was a congenital contrarian who expected his staff to aggressively question authority (including our own bosses—except, of course, him). Early in my tenure, I pitched him a story about the treatment of mentally ill inmates in prison, which Peter personally helped me produce and then gave prominent play on his broadcast. Then he had me launch more investigations, one on the issue of rape in prison, and another into the silencing of conservative voices on American college campuses. It was a journalistic apprenticeship par excellence.

Very often, Peter’s inspirational qualities were obscured by his mercurial behavior—and the primary venue for this was at the rim in those frenetic late afternoon hours before airtime, as reporters and producers were frantically vying for him to approve their scripts—which he insisted on doing personally. Some of his signature moves included reordering all of the ideas in a story for no discernible reason, and stealing the lines out of our pieces and using them himself. We correspondents (the older guys on my hall eventually deigned to communicate with me) often commiserated about getting “Petered,” inevitably concluding that the level of criticism we received was directly correlated to Peter’s mood or his personal feelings about you at that moment. He was, we all agreed, a man fueled by a combustible mix of preternatural talent and crushing insecurity. The first—and only—time I was handed back a script with no marks from his red pen, I saved it.

While I may have been initially stunned by my ascent at ABC News, I was not about to let the opportunity go to waste. I quickly got over my I-can’t-believe-they’re-letting-me-through-security phase and started focusing on how to navigate what could be a Hobbesian environment, where the various broadcasts, anchors, and executives competed fiercely against one another, and where aligning yourself too closely with any particular clique carried risks.

My modus operandi was inherited from my father, whose motto was: “The price of security is insecurity.” Dr. Jay Harris, a gifted wringer of hands and gnasher of teeth, used his security/insecurity maxim to advance through the world of cutthroat nebbishes in academic medicine. My mom, a reserved Massachusetts Yankee, was slightly mellower about her equally demanding medical career. The joke around the house was that this was because my dad is Jewish and my mom is not. The other joke was that I had inherited all of my dad’s worrier genes, and my brother had been spared. As Matt once quipped, “Dan makes Woody Allen look like a Buddhist monk.”

Kidding—and ethnic stereotypes—aside, I took my dad’s maxim very much to heart. Straight from childhood, I was a frequent mental inventory taker, scanning my consciousness for objects of concern, kind of like pressing a bruise to see if it still hurts. In my view, the balance between stress and contentment was life’s biggest riddle. On the one hand, I was utterly convinced that the continuation of any success I had achieved was contingent upon persistent hyper vigilance. I figured this kind of worrying must be adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint—cavemen who worried over perceived threats, real or imagined, probably survived longer. On the other hand, I was keenly aware that while this kind of insecurity might prolong life, it also made it less enjoyable.

Once at ABC, though, any attempts at balance went directly out the window. I was young and out of my league; I had to work triply hard to prove myself in the face of widespread institutional skepticism.

(One night, as I was standing in front of the camera waiting to go live on Peter’s show, his executive producer got into my earpiece and said, “You look like you’re getting ready to pose for Bar Mitzvah pictures.”) To compensate, I was pitching stories constantly; I was ruthlessly self-critical; I was willing to work nights, mornings, weekends—even if it meant skipping important events (such as friends’ weddings and family gatherings) in order to get on the air.

ABC News was a fertile environment for this kind of intensity. In fact, people here were fond of repeating a famous quote from legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas, one I embraced with gusto: “You’re only as good as your last story.” Getting on the air was not easy. On any given night, World News ran six or seven taped pieces from correspondents, and most of those slots went to the people covering

specific beats such as the White House. Meanwhile, there were about fifty other correspondents vying for what remained. I set up an endless mental tape loop: How many stories have I had on this week? What is the state of my relationship with Peter right now? What else do I have coming up?

For the first year or so on the job, my strategy was to focus mainly on producing what we called “back of the book” pieces, stories that aired after the first commercial break. These ranged from investigations to in-depth pieces to fluffy features. I figured that given all the competition to cover the big, breaking news, this was the smart play. Aside from the aforementioned investigations, I reported on the dotcom boom and bust, and did colorful features on the periphery of the Bush-Gore recount battle in Florida.

About a year into my tenure, Peter summoned me to his book-lined office to discuss a new assignment. He was settled behind an imposing dark wood desk as I sank uncomfortably into his overstuffed couch, which was clearly designed by the same person who invented such medieval torture devices as the iron maiden and the pear of anguish. He made an announcement that was both unforeseen and unwelcome. He wanted me to take over ABC’s coverage of religion. This beat was a high priority for Peter. He had recently hosted a pair of highly rated, well-reviewed prime-time specials about the lives of Jesus and Saint Paul. He had also personally overseen the hiring of the first full-time religion correspondent in the history of network news, Peggy Wehmeyer. But Peggy, a comely, blond evangelical from Texas, was leaving now, and Peter had decided I was going to take over her responsibilities. I tried to issue some sort of a protest about being a devout atheist (I didn’t have the guts to tell him I couldn’t care less about faith), but he was having none of it. This was happening. End of discussion.

Several months later, I was sitting in a puddle jumper on the tarmac in Fort Wayne, Indiana, having just finished shooting a story about church youth groups. A guy in the front of the passenger cabin hung up his cell phone, turned around, and told everyone that the Twin Towers were on fire. It was September 11, 2001, and suddenly every civilian airplane in the country was grounded. I was no longer heading back to New York anyway. My own cell phone rang, and my new marching orders were to get myself to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 had been brought down by passengers who stormed the cockpit.

I disembarked, rented a car, and with my producer alongside me, began the four-hundred-mile trek eastward. I spent those seven hours in the car experiencing what was, for me, a new and confusing breed of misery. Like all Americans, I was furious and scared. But there was also an overlay of self-interest. This was, in all likelihood, the biggest story of our lifetimes, and here I was stuck driving a “midsize vehicle” across the full breadth of Ohio, helplessly listening to the news unfold on the radio. I knew Peter would be in his element, in full-on clarify-and-comfort mode, and it made me feel physically ill not to be part of the team reporting on—and explaining—this news to the country. I knew now that “back of the book” would no longer cut it for me.

I reported from Pennsylvania that night, and then drove the rest of the way back to New York, where I essentially moved into the Tribeca Grand Hotel, just blocks from Ground Zero. The police had closed off much of Lower Manhattan, and since I lived and worked uptown, the only way to cover the story was to stay nearby. This boutique hotel, with its tiny rooms, exposed wrought iron elevator shafts, and huge lobby lounge (normally filled with boulevardiers sipping overpriced cocktails—now eerily empty), was an incongruously chic spot from which to cover the deadliest terror attack ever on American soil.

I was right about Peter. His round-the-clock anchoring during those terrible days was nearly universally lauded, and under his guidance, I produced stories about the anguished crowds visiting the rubble at Ground Zero, and also the troubling number of attacks on innocent Muslims around the nation.

A few weeks later, as the maelstrom of Ground Zero coverage began to abate, I was back uptown in my office one afternoon when my phone rang. The caller ID read foreign desk. The voice on the other end of the line said, “We need you to go to Pakistan.” A pint of dopamine was released into my brain. After I hung up the phone, I actually paced around the room, pumping my fist.

This, fittingly, was how I began the most dangerous and formative years of my life: with a series of douchey gesticulations. I lurched headlong into what would become a multiyear adventure—during which I would see places and things that I never would have had the audacity to imagine as a shaggy twenty-two-year-old reporter in Bangor. I was floating on a wash of adrenaline, besotted with airtime, and blinded to the potential psychological consequences.

Prior to this first trip to Pakistan in October of 2001, I had never been to the Third World, unless you count a visit to Tijuana in the 1980s when I was on a Teen Tour. So when I boarded the flight for Islamabad the day after that call from the Foreign Desk, I had no idea what to expect. I arrived to what my British friends would call a “proper Star Wars scene.” Baggage claim was teeming with bleary-eyed passengers, bored-looking cops, and greasy, brown jumpsuit–wearing baggage-handling hustlers. I was the only Westerner in the hall. A local driver met me on the other side of customs, holding a sign with my name on it. Outside, the morning air was hazy, warm, and smelled vaguely of burnt tires. The highway was clogged with huge, brightly decorated cargo trucks whose drivers were constantly beeping their tinny, melodic horns. I later figured out that people in places like this didn’t honk to get other drivers out of the way so much as to simply alert people of their presence, like a pulse of sonar. I had never felt so far away from home before.

But then we got to the hotel. To my surprise, it was a Marriott, and a nice one at that—much larger and more elegant than the average American version. I dropped off my bags then went straight up to the presidential suite, where the ABC team was working. This was my first time meeting many of these people. They were mostly from our London bureau—swashbuckling types, veterans of places like Bosnia and Rwanda. They seemed completely comfortable with the cognitive dissonance of being in a dangerous, impoverished country where we had uniformed hotel staff bringing us cellophane-wrapped platters of cookies and mixed nuts twice a day. My fellow correspondent Bob Woodruff strolled in and nonchalantly ordered scrambled eggs from room service.

Things got edgier pretty quickly. Within just a few days, I got word that we’d received an invitation from the Taliban, who were still ruling Afghanistan, to come visit their home base in Kandahar. It would be a sort of embedment. At first blush, it sounded like a supremely dumb idea—to go behind enemy lines, a guest of the actual enemy—and it provoked a spirited debate among our staff. We had a big meeting and argued it out. I went through the motions of listening to both sides, but it was really a foregone conclusion: there was no way I was going to miss this.

I tried to call my mother to let her know where I was going before she saw it on TV, but I couldn’t reach her at the hospital where she worked. So, against my better judgment, I called my father, the far more emotional parent. When I told him the plan, he started to cry. As the line went silent, except for the sounds of my dad catching his breath, the myopia of exhilaration gave way to remorse. Up until this point, I had been thinking only about what was in this trip for me; I hadn’t considered the special kind of hell it would create for my family. My dad recovered pretty quickly, engaging in characteristically self-deprecating humor: “You have a Jewish mother—it’s just not your mother.”

That night, I felt so guilty—and, frankly, scared—that I couldn’t sleep. The next day, I was part of a small group of reporters who boarded a bus to the unknown. After a long, spine-rattling ride on the unpaved main road that bisects southern Afghanistan, we arrived in the middle of the night at a complex of squat government buildings on the outskirts of Kandahar. The American air campaign had knocked out power and the whole city was pitch-black. We quickly went to the roof of one of the buildings, established a satellite signal, and taped a report in which Peter Jennings, at the news desk in New York, asked me questions about our journey. After talking to me, Peter—who still had a national newscast to prepare for—took the time to call my parents and let them know I was okay.

The next three days were a surreal, heady blur. We were ferried around town by hirsute, heavily armed men. For the most part, they showed us things they wanted us to see for PR purposes, including bombed-out buildings in which they claimed innocent civilians had been killed by U.S. warplanes. But it was the offscreen demeanor of these Taliban fighters that made the strongest impression on me. Aside from the top commanders, who engaged in the requisite propagandist puffery, the rank-and-file soldiers were actually easygoing and sociable. They were kids, really. They taught us local curse words. (Apparently “donkey” is a serious insult in Pashto.) At one point, one of them whispered to me, “Take me to America.”

I included a lot of this kind of color in my reports and received laudatory emails from the home office that were head-swimmingly intoxicating for a young reporter on the make. Peter was referring to me on the air as “our man in Afghanistan.” My crew, a pair of Brits, spent many hours ribbing me, predicting that I was going to be “an insufferable twat” when I got home. They would act out imagined scenes of me in New York City bars with friends, interrupting every conversation with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah—did I tell you about the time I was in Afghanistan?”

This trip was my first taste of what I would describe as journalistic heroin: the pure, sick rush of being somewhere you are not supposed to be and not only getting away with it but also getting on TV. I was hooked. When I got back to New York, though, I didn’t have much time to play peacock. I was greeted with a public repudiation in the New York Times. Arts critic Caryn James compared my coverage unfavorably to the BBC’s, calling mine “warm and fuzzy.” It was a hammer blow to my psyche. I bitterly disagreed with her, but many of my colleagues did not. Her article cemented the impression that I was too green to do this job. Around the office, I immediately went from hero to donkey.

A few weeks later, the Foreign Desk decided to give me a second chance, sending me this time to Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden was holed up and under assault by local Afghan warlords on the American payroll. In the taxi on the way to the airport, I got a call from Peter. He told me the consensus was that I had blown it the first time around, and that now I really needed to prove myself. I spent much of the flight in the fetal position.

There was no Marriott in Tora Bora. Upon arrival, we paid an opium farmer to let us sleep in his ramshackle compound of mud huts in the middle of an iced-over poppy field. There was a large, smelly ox tied up right outside the door, and every day when we came home for dinner, there would be one less chicken running through the yard.

On this assignment, I redeemed myself. Part of what turned things around for me was a scene, captured on video, where I was shooting a “stand-up,” the part of a news story where the reporter speaks directly to the camera. I was perched on the side of a mountain, and right in the middle of my spiel, there was a whistling noise overhead. I had never heard gunfire up close before, so it took me a second to realize what was happening and dive to the ground. There was nothing warm or fuzzy about this. My bosses ate it up.

There were, however, two embarrassing things about this moment. First, a close inspection of the videotape revealed that none of the Afghans in the frame behind me ducked, or even looked particularly concerned. Second, my immediate thought as that bullet whizzed over was: I hope we’re rolling on this.

This was new. If gunshots had gone off in a situation where I was not on the job, I would have wet my pants. I had no record of courage in my personal life. No military service, not even any experience in contact sports. My only prior brush with danger was when I got hit by a cab after wandering into an intersection in Manhattan without looking. When you’re covering a news story, however, there’s a tendency to feel bulletproof. It’s as if there’s a buffer between you and the world, an exponentially more dangerous variant of the unreality you feel when taking a stroll while listening to your iPod. In the context of combat, my reflex to worry had been completely overridden by my desire to be part of the big story.

Tora Bora was a military failure—with Bin Laden most likely scurrying along a goat trail into Pakistan—but for me it was a resurrection of sorts. Having regained the trust of my bosses, I spent the next three years shuttling back and forth between New York and places such as Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Iraq. I was like a slightly less dorky Zelig, somehow materializing in the backdrop of the world’s most important historical events.

These were assignments that entailed repeated exposure to grotesquerie. In Israel, outside a seaside hotel after a suicide bombing, I watched as a gust of ocean breeze sent a bedsheet billowing off the ground, revealing a row of legs. In Iraq, a group of marines and I stared down at a bloated corpse on the side of the road as we collectively realized that what we thought were gunshot wounds in the man’s face were, in fact, drill holes. In the West Bank, I stood next to a father, watching bodies being dumped from a forklift into an impromptu mass grave in a hospital parking lot. The man let out a sustained, high-pitched wail as he spotted his own son tumbling into the pit.

While I was unable to hold it together in the face of the crying father, walking out of camera range with a lump in my throat, I was surprised by my overall reaction to the horrors of war—or, more accurately, my lack of reaction. As far as I could tell, I was not that shaken. I convinced myself this kind of psychological distance was a job requirement, like the doctors from M*A*S*H who cracked jokes over the patients on their operating table. I reckoned reportorial remove served a higher purpose, allowing me to more effectively convey urgent information. If I broke down every time I saw something disturbing, how could I function?

Back home, people would ask me whether my experiences overseas had “changed” me. My reflexive answer was: no. The old line “Wherever you go, there you are” seemed to apply. I was still the same; I just had the proverbial front-row seat at history. My parents openly worried about whether I was traumatized by what I’d seen, but I didn’t feel traumatized at all. Quite the opposite; I liked being a war correspondent. Loved it, in fact. The bodyguards, the armored cars, being driven around like I was a head of state. I also liked the way flak jackets made my diminutive frame look larger on TV. In a war zone, the rules are suspended. You ignore traffic lights, speed limits, and social niceties. It has an illicit, energizing feel not unlike being in a major city during a blackout or a blizzard. And then, of course, there’s the added romance of risk. We used to repeat to one another bastardized versions of an apt old quote from Winston Churchill: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

It wasn’t just the rush I enjoyed. I also genuinely believed in the importance of what we were doing, bearing witness to the tip of the American spear. I felt a sense of purpose—that this was a cause that merited the risk. For both of these reasons—the thrill and the principle— I freely engaged in ABC’s notorious intramural battles in order to stay in the game. An outsider might assume that we journalists spend most of our time competing with people from other networks. In actuality, we expend most of our energy competing with our own colleagues. In order to retain my spot on the front lines, I found myself vying against fellow correspondents like David Wright, another young reporter who’d recentlyarrived from local news. He was aggressive and smart, and I kind of resented him for it.

While I’d once been content to let the senior folks fight it out for the big stories, I was now much more assertive. This competition mostly took the form of overt lobbying—phone calls and emails to the anchors and executives who make the assignments. While the internal wrangling was, in many ways, a sign of a healthy, vibrant organization, it was also stressful and provoked me to dedicate way too many hours to measuring myself against people I worked with. For example, during a period in which David was kicking ass over in Afghanistan and I was stuck in New York, I could barely bring myself to watch the news.

Fighting over airtime in the middle of a war was perverse, but such was the nature of the gig, it seemed to me. The great blessing of being a journalist is that you get to witness world events—to interface with the players, to experience the smells and tastes of it all. The great curse, though, is that, as I’d learned on 9/11, you come to see these events, at least in part, through the lens of self-interest. Did I get to go? Did I perform well? This psychology was not discussed much in all the autobiographies of legendary journalists that I’d read, but it was nonetheless real. Peter had epic rivalries with fellow anchors like Ted Koppel. The news division had been structured by its preceding president, the legendary Roone Arledge, as a star system with competing fiefdoms battling over scarce resources like big interviews and the best correspondents. When Wright and I were both angling to be the first into Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, Peter even called me and made approving jokes about my sharp elbows.

In an environment that was permissive of pique, I sometimes let my temper get the better of me, a tendency that dated back to my early twenties. When I was a young anchorman in Boston, I once threw my papers in the air during a commercial break to express my frustration over a technical glitch. Shortly thereafter, my boss called me into his office to warn me, “ People don’t like you.” That meeting sent my heart into my throat and forced me to correct my behavior. But there continued to be room for improvement; as a network correspondent, I was still occasionally snippy with colleagues, and even, on a few occasions overseas, downright stupid. Like the time I was in the middle of a crowded, angry street demonstration in Pakistan and engaged in a supremely unwise shouting match with a protestor who’d just told me the Israelis were behind 9/11. The one situation in which my peevishness remained firmly bottled up was of course when dealing with Peter Jennings himself.

On a muggy July day in 2003, I got out of a taxi in front of my apartment building on the Upper West Side, having just wrapped up a five-month stay in Iraq, a posting that stretched from the months before the U.S. invasion all the way up to the beginning of the insurgency. It was strange to be back from the desert, in a world of deciduous trees, a place where I no longer required an entourage. The doormen looked at me with surprise, and I sensed that they were struggling to remember my name. I rolled my bag down the hallway of the fourteenth floor and opened the door to the “home.” I’d scarcely visited in two years. The place was pathetic, decorated like a college dorm room, and with stacks of unopened mail all over the place. I’d been away so long that I’d missed the transition to DVDs—I still had one of those big, boxy televisions with a VHS player in it. I hadn’t come to the end of my overseas assignments, but the powers that be had decided that now was the time for me to focus more on domestic priorities, like covering the 2004 presidential campaign and trying my hand at the anchor desk.

Meanwhile, my personal life was a blightscape. While I had been abroad, the already limited social network I’d maintained outside of work had largely evaporated. I was in my early thirties, and my friends had all coupled up and hunkered down. People my age were maturing, nesting, and reproducing. I, by contrast, had just endured an epic breakup after a short, fiery relationship with a Spanish journalist I’d met in Iraq. But I was so focused on work that romantic stability wasn’t even on my list of priorities.

Not long after I got home, I developed a mysterious illness with flulike symptoms. I felt tired and achy all the time, I was perpetually cold, and I had trouble getting out of bed. I’d always been a little bit of a hypochondriac, but this was different. It dragged on for months. I convened lengthy, medical symposia over the phone with my parents. I got tested for tropical diseases, Lyme disease, and HIV. There was even talk of chronic fatigue syndrome.

When all the tests came back negative, I latched on to the theory that my apartment had a gas leak, and I paid an exorbitant fee to get the place tested. For a few nights, I slept on the floor at the apartment of my close friend Regina, who I’d known since college. She was a recent law school grad who had started a legal headhunting company. (She liked to say that she “bought and sold lawyers.”) Throughout the night, her miniature pinscher would bring his kibble next to my head and chew it in my ear. Ultimately, the test results showed there was no leak. At which point I jokingly said to Regina that if I didn’t find a diagnosis soon, I might have to admit that I was crazy.

When I finally broke down and went to see a psychiatrist, he took about five minutes to deliver his verdict: depression. As I sat on the couch in this cozy Upper East Side office, I insisted to the kindly, sweater-wearing shrink that I didn’t feel blue at all. The shrink explained that it is entirely possible to be depressed without being conscious of it. When you’re cut off from your emotions, he said, they often manifest in your body.

This was humbling. I had always fancied myself to be reasonably self-aware. My mind, a perpetual motion machine of plotting, planning, and evaluating had apparently missed something essential. The doctor had a couple of theories. It was possible, he said, that the horror of what I had witnessed overseas was too much for my conscious mind to handle. It was also possible that I was subconsciously pining for the adrenaline of war zones—that I was essentially in withdrawal from journalistic heroin. Or perhaps, it was a combination of both. He recommended antidepressants. Unfortunately, I had already started self-medicating.

Although many of my friends partook, I had made it through high school, college, and my twenties without experimenting with hard drugs.

Alcohol and a little weed, yes, but nothing more. I was never even tempted—or to be more honest, I was scared. On a few occasions, pot had made me so intensely paranoid that I felt like I was incarcerated in an inner Mordor. I figured harder drugs had the potential to be even worse.

However, my psychosomatic illness had left me feeling weak and adrift. One night, I agreed to go to a party with a guy from the office. We were at his apartment, having a quick drink before going to meet his friends, and he shot me an impish look and said, “Want some cocaine?” He had offered before and I had always demurred, but this time, on an impulse, I caved. Here I was crossing what had always been a distinct, bright line, in an utterly haphazard fashion. I was thirty-two years old.

The drug took about fifteen seconds to kick in. At first, it was just a pleasant electric sizzle coursing through my limbs. Then I noticed a disgusting ammonia-flavored postnasal drip. It didn’t bother me, though, because it was accompanied by a triumphant horn flourish of euphoric energy. After months of feeling run-down and ragged, I felt normal again. Better than normal. Rejuvenated. Restored. Logorrhea ensued. I said many, many things over the course of the evening, one of which was: “Where has this drug been all my life?”

Thus began what my friend Regina sardonically called my Bright Lights, Big City phase. That night, at the party I went to with the guyfrom work, I made a bunch of new friends. And those people also did cocaine.

With coke, you never reach satiety. It hits, it peaks, it fades—and before you know it, every cell in your body is screaming for more. It’s like that line from the poet Rilke, who referred to the “quick gain of an approaching loss.” I chased this dragon with the zeal of the convert. Late one night, I was partying with another new friend, Simon—a man who had, to put it mildly, a great deal of experience with drugs—and when he was ready to go to bed, I insisted we stay up and keep going. He looked over at me wearily and said, “You have the soul of a junkie.”

Then I discovered ecstasy. I was with some friends in New Orleans when someone started handing out little blue pills. They said it would take a half hour or more before I felt anything, and as I waited, I strolled through the city’s French Quarter. I knew I was high when we passed a piano bar where they were playing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and it sounded transcendent.

I couldn’t believe one pill could make me so happy. I felt as if my torso was swaddled in heated cotton balls. The very act of talking, the mere vibration of my vocal cords, was blissful. Walking was a symphony of sensual pleasure, with waves of euphoria melting all the calcified barriers of self-consciousness. I could even get out of my own way to dance.

Sadly, the pain of the comedown was proportional to the power of the high. Reality reentered the scene with a pickax. The lesson for the neophyte drug taker was that there is no free lunch, neurologically speaking. On the day after ecstasy, my serotonin stores would be utterly depleted. I often found myself overwhelmed by a soul-sucking sense of emptiness, a hollowed-out husk of a man.

It was partly because of the severity of the hangover—cocaine, too, left me cracked-out and colicky for at least twenty-four hours—that I was meticulous about never doing drugs when I had to work the next day. Not only did I largely quarantine my substance abuse to weekends, but there were also long stretches of time when I was traveling for work and completely abstinent—covering the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries, for example. The pull of drugs was powerful, but the tug of airtime was even more so. In fact, during one of the years when I was using drugs, I was ranked as the most prolific network television news correspondent. This only served to compound my master of the universe complex, convincing me I could fool everyone and pull it all off.

On some level, of course, I knew I was taking a massive professional risk. If my partying leaked out I could have been fired. And yet I carried on, impelled forward blindly, my common sense hijacked by the pleasure centers of my brain. I kept using drugs well past the point where I had been diagnosed with depression. I failed—or refused—to connect the dots.

I had always had an addictive personality. It’s a lucky thing that the first time I tried cigarettes, at age fourteen, I puked. Otherwise, I might have picked up a lifelong habit. One of my most vivid childhood memories was playing ball one afternoon with my mom and brother on top of a hill near our house. I kept telling them I needed to use the bathroom, and would then sneak back to the kitchen to take slices of cake from the fridge. On the fourth or fifth trip, after realizing I had eaten nearly the whole thing, I came back and tearfully confessed. Not long afterward, I found out where my parents—who were very strict about candy—had hidden a bag of lollipops on a very high shelf in the kitchen. Over the course of several days, I repeatedly weaseled up there and ate them all. The power of craving, the momentum of wanting was always difficult for me to resist.

Now, as a budding drug abuser, it wasn’t just the professional risks I shrugged off. I developed persistent chest pains that got so bad that one night I went into the ER to get checked out. A young medical resident told me that the trouble was very likely caused by cocaine, which I had reluctantly admitted to using. Despite her pleading, I left the hospital and pretended the encounter had never happened.

Every drug recovery narrative has to have its bottom, and mine—or at least my first one—came on that warm June morning on the set of Good Morning America when I melted down on live TV. Ever since my return from Iraq, I’d been occasionally filling in for Robin Roberts as the News Reader. It was a huge opportunity, one I valued immensely and hoped would turn into something larger. I was used to the routine—I’d been appearing semi-regularly for a few months now—so I had no reason to think this morning would be any different. Which is why I was shaken to my core when that irresistible bolt of terror radiated out from the reptilian folds of my brain.

My mind was in outright rebellion. My lungs seized up in what pulmonary doctors call “air hunger.” I could see the words scrolling up in front of me on the teleprompter, but I just could not get myself to say them. Every time I stumbled, the prompter would slow down. I could picture the woman who operated the machine, tucked away  in a corner of the studio, and I knew she must be wondering what the hell was going on. For a nanosecond, amid my inner hurricane of thoughts, I really cared what she, in particular, was thinking.

I tried to soldier on, but it wasn’t working. I was helpless. Marooned, in front of millions of people. So, at the end of the voice-over about cholesterol-lowering drugs and their impact on “cancer production,” I decided to resort to a gambit I’d never used before on TV. I bailed—punted. I cut the newscast short, several full minutes before I was supposed to be done, managing to squeak out, “Uh, that does it for news. We’re gonna go back now to Robin and Charlie.” Of course, I was supposed to have said “Diane and Charlie.”

You could hear the surprise in Charlie’s voice as he picked up the verbal baton and started to introduce the weather guy, Tony Perkins. Diane, meanwhile, looked genuinely worried for me, making a series of quick, anxious glances in my direction.

As soon as the weathercast began, Charlie shot out of his seat and ran over to see if I was okay. The producers were buzzing in my earpiece. Stagehands and camera operators were crowding around. No one seemed to know what had happened. I think they thought I had a stroke or something. I insisted I had no idea what went wrong. But as the panic subsided, humiliation rushed in; I knew with rock-solid certitude that, after having spent the previous decade of my professional life trying to cultivate a commanding on-air persona, I had just lost it in front of a national audience.

My superiors expressed sincere concern over the incident. When they asked what happened, though, I lied and said I had no idea—that it was a fluke. I was ashamed, and also afraid. I thought that if I admitted the truth, that I had just had a panic attack, it would expose me as a fraud, someone who had no business anchoring the news. For whatever reason, they seemed to accept my explanation. To this day, I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because it all happened so quickly, or because it was out of character, or perhaps because I managed to get through my next newscast, just an hour later, without a hitch. In the news business, memories are mercifully short; everyone moved on to the next crisis.

I called my mom from backstage. She had been watching, and she knew exactly what was up. She’d always been impossible for me to fool. I was frantic, but her response, a mixture of the maternal and the clinical, was enormously comforting. Within hours, she had me on the phone with a psychiatrist colleague from her hospital in Boston. This was the second shrink I had consulted since returning from Iraq. It never crossed my mind to mention my drug use to him, because I hadn’t gotten high in the days or weeks leading up to the incident.

Stage fright seemed like a reasonable enough explanation. Performance anxiety had actually dogged me throughout my entire life, which, of course, made my choice of profession a little odd. One of the only lighter moments in the whole crisis was when I jokingly said to my mom that my career up until this point had been a triumph of narcissism over fear. I had experienced a few minor episodes of panic before this—in Bangor in 1993, I nearly fainted when my boss announced that she wanted me to do my first live shot that night—but a meltdown of this magnitude was unprecedented. I was put on an immediate, steady dose of Klonopin, an antianxiety medication, which seemed to bring things under control. For about a week, as I became habituated to the drug, it gave me a pleasant dopey feeling. With the Klonopin on board, you could have marched an army of crazed chimps armed with nunchucks and ninja stars into my apartment and I would have remained calm.

Meanwhile, I kept on partying. Which is how, a little over a year later, it happened again. Same basic scenario: I was at the news desk on GMA. The terror cut straight through the Klonopin even before I started to read the first story. The anchors tossed it to me, and from the very first word you could hear my voice getting thinner as my throat constricted. I had five stories to get through, and no respite, no lifeline. I was determined, though, to make it all the way. I had to stop to catch my breath at a few points, but each time I would then physically will my face back up toward the camera and start reading again. This verbal Bataan Death March continued through four stories until I arrived at the “kicker” (news-speak for the requisite light, closing note), which was about the Miracle-Gro company coming out with a plant that blossoms with the words i love you on it. As I read the last words off the prompter, I even felt confident enough to attempt a little extemporizing, although it fell flat. “We’ll keep tuned—stay tuned on that.” (Halfhearted laugh; awkward pause.) “Now to Tony for more on the weather.”

This time, there was no crowd hovering around me after it ended. None of my colleagues or friends said anything to me at all. I hid it well enough that I don’t think anyone even knew it had happened. I may have gotten away with it, but once again I knew full well what had gone down, and I went into DEFCON 1. If I couldn’t reliably speak on the air—even while taking antianxiety meds—my entire working future was up for grabs. From a professional standpoint, this was an existential issue.

My folks found me a new psychiatrist—now the third shrink I’d seen since returning from Iraq—and purportedly the “best guy” in New York City for panic disorders. He was a tall, sturdy man in his mid-fifties named Dr. Andrew Brotman. He had a twinkle in his eye and an un-ironic salt-and-pepper goatee. In our first meeting, he asked me a series of questions, trying to get to the source of the problem. One of them was, “Do you do drugs?”

Sheepishly, I said, “Yes.”

He leaned back in his large office chair and gave me a look that seemed to say, Okay, dummy. I’ve figured it out. Mystery solved.

He explained that frequent cocaine use increases the levels of adrenaline in the brain, which dramatically ups the odds of having a panic attack. He told me that what I had experienced on air was an overwhelming jolt of mankind’s ancient fight-or-flight response, which evolved to help us react to attacks by saber-toothed tigers or whatever. Except in this case, I was both the tiger and the dude trying to avoid becoming lunch.

The doctor decreed in no uncertain terms that I needed to stop doing drugs—immediately. Faced with the potential demise of my career, it was a pretty obvious call. I agreed then and there to go cold turkey. He did not think I was a heavy enough user to require sweating it out in rehab. He did, however, say I needed to take better of myself, with a steady regime of exercise, sleep, healthy food, and temperance. He compared it to the way trainers take good care of racehorses. He also suggested that I come back to see him twice a week.

As I sat there in Dr. Brotman’s office, the sheer enormity of my mindlessness started to sink in. All of it: from maniacally pursuing airtime, to cavalierly going into war zones without considering the psychological impact, to using cocaine and ecstasy for a synthetic squirt of replacement adrenaline. It was as if I had been sleepwalking through an entire cascade of moronic behavior.

It was now thunderously clear to me that I needed to make changes—beyond just giving up drugs. Psychotherapy seemed like a reasonable route. This is what people like me did when things got rough, right? I mean, even Tony Soprano had a therapist. So I agreed: I would come back twice a week.

The sessions were held in Brotman’s ground-floor office in a cavernous hospital located in an extremely inconvenient part of Manhattan. Initially, the principal topic of our biweekly sessions was, of course, drugs. While I may not have been physically addicted, I was certainly psychologically hooked. I missed getting high so badly that it was the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I fantasized about before I drifted off to sleep. I’d had some of the happiest moments of my life while high, and pulling the plug was wrenching. I worried I might never feel happy again—that I’d shorted out my brain circuitry for pleasure. Certain friendships had to be sacrificed because simply being around some of the people I’d partied with was too powerful a trigger. I went through the various Kübler-Ross stages of grief, including sadness, anger, and a robust phase of bargaining, where I fruitlessly tried to convince the doctor to let me have a big night, like, maybe once a month. Comments like these would inevitably provoke Brotman to pull what I soon learned was a signature move: leaning back in his chair and shooting me a skeptical look that sent the following nonverbal message: Really, asshole?

I found a degree of comfort in the fact that my case was not an aberration. I learned of soldiers returning home and attempting to re-create the adrenaline rush of combat by driving at excessive speeds. And while the psychological impacts on veterans were well documented, an underreported study of war correspondents found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, and alcohol abuse. The psychiatrist who conducted the research noted that, despite the risks, many journalists insisted on repeatedly returning to war zones. As one veteran reporter put it, “War is a drug.”

Despite having this larger context, I still could not get over that I had allowed this whole train wreck to happen, that I had risked everything I’d worked so hard to achieve. I felt disappointed—defective, even. I kept pushing Brotman to produce some sort of blockbuster psychological revelation. I hoped that I would be able to give him some magic set of data points from my past that would lead to an aha moment that would explain not just my mindless behavior, but also my penchant for worry, as well as the fact that I was a thirty-three year old with zero propensity for romantic commitment. Approximately a million times, Brotman—who had a pronounced allergy to the dramatic—tried to explain that he didn’t believe in such epiphanies and couldn’t suddenly conjure some “unifying theory.” I remained unconvinced.

Still, the mere fact of having someone smart to talk to—and to make sure I didn’t go back to doing coke in the bathrooms of Lower Manhattan bars—was enormously valuable. But there was something else afoot—another development that would also play a role in putting me on the weird and winding path toward finding the antidote to mindlessness. This new X factor was the emergence of an unsought and long neglected assignment from Peter Jennings.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story
by by Dan Harris