My Time in 12-Step Programs, Part II

Despite the fact I was arrested on underage pornography charges, it took me even longer to appreciate the fact I had issues with pornography as a whole. I avoided the subject of my traditional porn usage – a staple of my life between the ages of 14 and 37 – with the therapist I was seeing while the legal progress proceeded.

Once I was sober, there was still a mighty pull toward pornography. I wasn’t about to access anything on a computer since my bail conditions forbade it and we didn’t have much in the way of cable programming to satisfy any urges I had. It was after several months of this I finally admitted to my wife, therapist and lawyer that if I could find a rehab to help me with the porn issues the way the first helped with my alcoholism, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

About a month later, I went to a facility in Texas, the Sante Center for Healing. It had a much stronger therapy component than Spencer, but it also relied on nightly 12-step meetings. The drug and alcohol addicted residents attended a meeting in one room, those with eating disorders had theirs in another and those labeled sex addicts met in the weight room. Probably half of the residents were cross-addicted, like me, and were welcomed at any meeting.

I found it disappointing we never went to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings outside of the facility since Dallas, just 45 minutes down the road, had plenty. It was just the residents who ran the meetings and depending on the mix of people at a given time, it was fantastic or a waste of time.

The socioeconomic status of Sante was much higher than Spencer. These were people with backgrounds much similar to me and whether someone was 10 years younger or 10 years older, it didn’t seem to matter. There were a few who were there under duress, but they never lasted too long.

During meetings, I found that sticking to readings in the green book, be it working our way through the 12 Steps or reading stories of addicts at the back of the book (it’s the same set-up as every 12-step program book, always based off the AA “Big Book” model), was not holding the attention of the 6-8 people who went to the meetings nightly. It was only at the end of the meeting, when we were allowed to speak that things felt therapeutic for me.

One of my big gripes about 12-step meetings is the lack of discussion. It’s a series of short speeches, and should anybody interrupt, clarify, ask a question or make a comment, there will almost always be that one person who lives their life strictly by the rule of “no cross-talk during meetings” and will not hesitate to call it out. Technically, it’s not cross-talk, but Bill W. was a stockbroker, not an English major.

When I ran the meetings toward the end of my seven-week stay, I decided to put the book down and turn the entire meeting into a discussion group. I’d pick a topic from the text write it at the top of a dry erase board and put four or five discussion questions under it.  I also used the Love Addicts Anonymous program to draw inspiration for the discussions. My biggest rule was that you could ask for feedback, or you could say you don’t want feedback and it was to be respected. Nobody ever shut another person down from what I can remember.

Within a week, our meetings went from 6-8 people to 12-14. All I will take credit for is creating more of a forum for people to talk openly about their issues. A woman with a ketamine problem attended one meeting, because she needed to get it off her chest that she had prostituted herself years earlier. One man told the group about wrestling with a boy 20 years early and it moving into inappropriate areas.

I found that being with this group was more beneficial to understanding my issues with porn than any other. I was able to honestly talk about my porn usage that spun out of control and what may have lead me to porn in the first place. While the group addressed some heavy, heavy stuff, there was a support that I felt had been lacking at almost all of the other 12-step meetings except Cocaine Anonymous.





Finding Sex Addict Anonymous meetings in Maine is like finding a needle in a haystack. There is one in my town weekly whereas there are probably a dozen AA meetings daily. When I left Sante, I told my wife that I needed to attend meetings of some sort to remind myself that I was an addict, but it wasn’t more than two weeks that I found myself looking at the clock. I just didn’t gel with the group.

I did find one man who became a quasi-sponsor for my time between visiting the SAA meetings and entering jail about seven months later. Our conversations gave me the drive to stay sober and continue forward with my recovery.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply find another meeting without driving 45 minutes in another direction, and the other groups sounded like they were run by essentially the same people. They did it their way, which worked for them.

I know that I got a lot of out certain 12-step meetings I attended, but I don’t subscribe to their healing powers as many devotees do. I’m not sure how actually successful they are and if they’re any more successful than attempting to abstain cold turkey, seeing a therapist or any other attempt at quitting. The truth is, there is no scientific basis for 12-step programs working and based on their loose structure, there are no reliable stats about success or failure rates.

Much like any religion, there is dogma and rhetoric that I just can’t agree with. I don’t believe I need to admit I’m powerless over alcoholic or pornography. For me, that mindset would just send me deeper into the addictions. In reality, I am the only person who has any power over my actions. If I was powerless, the car wouldn’t drive itself to 12-step meetings.

I begrudge nothing to the people who blindly subscribe to the dogma if it’s working for them. I understand that their recovery must be devoid of fluidity the way that my life must have it. If they stray outside the lines, they’ll fail. If I’m forced into a little box, I’ll fail.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t sobriety, by whatever fashion, the goal? If cold turkey works, that’s great. I’ve met plenty of people who have simply walked away from their addictions. Sure, they great cravings like anyone else, but they were successful. Who am I to begrudge them that? I’ve heard the complaints that some AA meetings are full of “dry drunks” who haven’t learned anything, aren’t different and are just the same people they were, but now don’t drink. To that, I say “Fantastic!” Them changing their lives is a different thing than them not drinking. Even if they are still miserable, there is a physical upside to not imbibing.

My road to recovery had pit stops at various 12-step meetings, all of which I took something from, but I also learned that 12-step meetings were not going to be an ongoing piece of my recovery. Staying away from pornography and staying away from alcohol can only be accomplished if I’m having active, not passive, interactions with others. It helps if they understand addiction, but it’s not necessary.

I would suggest to anybody that is questioning if they have an addiction to attend a 12-step meeting. The worst case scenario is you’ll walk away in legit denial and continue with behavior that is self-destructive. The best case scenario is that you walk away, knowing you genuinely don’t have a problem…but let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be debating attending a meeting if you genuinely didn’t have a problem. I walked away saying, “I’m not alone in my addictions, but right now, this isn’t for me.” That may not seem like a lot, but it was the first step on my recovery journey. For that, I’m grateful for 12-step programs.

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