Explaining the Feeling of Addiction

A challenge in talking to the loved ones of porn addicts is that they can’t understand the addict mind. They don’t share it. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to both quickly explain how deeply depraved and deceitful – yet with little remorse – an addict (really of any substance or behavior) can get, but also why they feel that they need their substance so much. The feeling of addiction is unlike any I’ve ever had.

I need the right analogy to share with the TED Talk audience I have coming up here in early December. I’ve thought about the phone speech, but I don’t think those over 35 are as attached to their phones. I have also thought about a heavy, wet fur coat that you’re wearing in a blizzard. I’ve thought about just the simple feeling of thirst. It’s hard to know exactly how to explain addiction to someone who has never been through it, but I recognize it’s also hard because I became addicted to porn at about 12 and alcohol around 14. As much as the average person doesn’t know what it feels like to be an addict, I don’t know what it feels like to not be one.

The Not-So-Obvious, Obviously

I’m not addicted to things like gambling and food, and I don’t think of those things very often. If I’m at a casino, it’s fun for a little while. If I’m having a great meal, I’m appreciating it. But when it’s done, it’s done. However, as a former addict, I do understand how people who are addicted come to see these things as life lines.

I certainly couldn’t fathom my life without porn or alcohol for about 25 years. I knew people did it, but I didn’t know how. Alcohol and porn were like an oxygen tank and when I started wheezing, I could always take a deep breath and make things better. My addictions did feel like oxygen when I needed them and in those times, I’d do just about anything to get there. The feeling of addiction was the feeling of life.

How far will porn addicts go? Sometimes looking from the outside, it’s so sad it’s almost comical. I’ve mentioned that I learned how to get around YouTube filters. It’s about learning foreign phrases banned in the search filter if they were typed in English. It’s not a badge of honor I can translate the word “naked” into about six different languages, it’s a testament to how sick I truly was.

Spanning the Globe, Literally

I know of one woman who thought filters were the answer for her husband. I’ve explained plenty of times before why I don’t think they’re the answer, and she knew she couldn’t stop her addict husband from looking at friends’ phones or buying magazines, but when it came down to the electronic devices she had dominion over, she clamped everything down at home with multiple filters.

But addicts are creative. We have PhDs in manipulation and problem solving. Some, like me, who many not be full-blown narcissists but still have an inflated ego get part of the high out of thinking that we’re smarter than anybody trying to stop us. We tell you what you need to hear so we can get our fix. We’ll figure out a way around your silly rules if we want something bad enough. The feeling of addiction is often one of superiority, too.

Several years ago, before Google Earth or Google Maps recognized the importance of blurring things like license plate numbers, you could still see most people’s faces and certainly their bodies. I remember different articles online where people would laugh about what Google captured 10-15 years ago. There was one where it looked like a man was stuff a body in the trunk of a car. In another, a couple having an affair were photographed. The spurned wife saw the two of them kissing in her driveway.

I believe to the average person, they just think, “Oh, Google made some mistakes with people’s identities early on and shared too much.”

That’s not what the porn addict sees and hears. What does this tiny little piece of information mean for a porn addict? It means virtually visiting Bondi Beach in Australia, Playa Zipolite in Mexico or Cap D’Ange in France. Why? Because they are three of the most popular nude beaches in the world.

That’s right, this guy figured out nudity was only a click away from him and beyond his wife’s filters when he simply searched “international vacations.” Her filters never stood a chance.

Times are Changing, Quickly

We’ve come a long way from when a kid would sneak a National Geographic into the house in plain sight. Suddenly, he’s interested in the world because of the unclothed natives, to where we are today.

I learned my cable company unscrambled the Playboy Channel before it went off the air at 6 a.m. Kids today would laugh at the millions of us who tried to watch scrambled porn in hope of seeing something. The cable company was my parents’ filter back in the day, but these days? I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a filter to someone who really wants to see it. Just the added excitement about getting around the filter – a red flag for the feeling of addiction.

Yeah, it’s a challenge to explain the mind of an addict to a non-addict. Maybe it’s something that shouldn’t be attempted. If you’re not an addict, you never want to be there.

If you’re interested in watching the live stream of my TED Talk in early December, visit TedXHartford.com

Lead Photo by Katherine Gu on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Explaining the Feeling of Addiction

  1. I think, for most people, it is actually very hard to get inside the mind of an addict, and it’s also one of the reasons it’s hard to help someone with a pull to addiction. Thanks for sharing so much from your personal experience. I think it will help so many people.

  2. I recall trying to explain to my wife about my porn addiction. She didn’t understand it at all. I told her that when the compulsion to indulge comes into my mind all reason, risk factors, moral convictions and spiritual doctrines vanish in a nanosecond and the only thing I can think of is “When can I get another opportunity to ‘do my thing’?” It’s a mental disease that’s nearly impossible to articulate the power it wields in us to the people we hurt.

    1. Exactly. It’s somewhat close to other things that normal people experience, but it’s still hard for them to understand the mental urge toward the addictive substance.

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