Compartmentalizing is a Myth

I was reminded today of one of those “a-ha!” moments that came often in early recovery when somebody I work with through my PornAddictCounseling.org site talked about how he always found life easier when he could compartmentalize. It wasn’t until near the end of my stay at inpatient rehab for porn addiction that I realized the concept of compartmentalizing is a lie addicts tell themselves.

My life prior to recovery was all about the façade of compartmentalization. I had my professional life, my political life, my family-at-home life, my extended family life, my addicted life, and the life that existed inside my head.

It got so bad, I was hiding every compartment from every other for no rational reason. For instance, in the six months or so prior to my crash, I began calling bingo numbers at a nursing home near where I worked. Every Tuesday for about 90 minutes, I’d make an excuse to my co-workers that I had to be somewhere, but I never told them where. I never mentioned to my wife and kids that I called the numbers and it wasn’t like I was seeking any kind of attention or accolades for volunteering.

I remember at the time thinking that I just wanted to do something nice as anonymously as I could. Every movement I made professional or politically seemed so calculating, and even those that weren’t probably came across that way, so I just wanted something for myself. I didn’t want the rest of the pieces of my life knowing anything about it.

It was the same way for the pornography, and for the most part, the alcoholism. Except for the final month or two, I never looked at pornography during the day. It was always very late at night, after everybody in my house went to bed. Yes, I drank at lunch, at work social functions, and would drink at home in the evening, but no one compartment of my life saw the drinking in its totality.

The reality is, my addicted life was not a compartment at all. It had to do with the stress of the other compartments. My extended family life compartment had a lot to do with things that existed inside of my head from years earlier. My professional life and political life compartments were escapes from the compartments I didn’t want to deal with.

The truth is, there are no compartments. Instead of looking at life as a series of boxes, each with its own positives and negatives, life is more like a spider web. While two points may seem very far apart, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the path from Point A to Point B.

I was the way I was – and am the way I am today – because of how all of my experiences and thoughts affect one another. Trying to neatly organize them is a fool’s errand. There is no compartmentalization. That’s just a coping mechanism that allowed me to try to turn my life into bite-sized portions that I could easily control. As a whole, I knew I was out of control, but I convinced myself that I could manage the compartments.

The next time you find yourself compartmentalizing, stop and ask yourself what it’s all about and how what you’re doing really affects the other aspects of your life. Everything is connected. We don’t live in a series of several vacuums. Understand, appreciate and deal with the fact that your life is a single entity, not compartments.

My Pornography Addiction was About Power and Control, Not Sex

I probably should have recognized this early in my recovery, but I’ve come to realize that my addiction to pornography was just an extension of who I was at the time: Somebody struggling greatly with a lack of power and control to the point I’d fool myself into believing I had both by almost any means necessary.

I recognize that this comes from the faulty survival skills I developed as a child when I was being babysat everyday by a woman who was mentally unstable. Looking back, I can now recognize the severe obsessive-compulsive disorder she had, along with a handful of other issues that led to an environment of multiple forms of abuse and one where I didn’t feel safe.

My outlook on life then, as it was for most of the next 30 years, was to simply survive to the next day. It didn’t matter how you got there, as long as you made it until tomorrow. Along the way, I developed a variety of coping and escape mechanisms. I’ve only recently realized that they were my ways of maintaining control.

I have been diagnosed with a detachment disorder. I think that developed, along with a lack of empathy, because it was easier to not care about things. Instead of being hurt, if I didn’t have any vested interest in most things or people, it wouldn’t have an effect on me when bad things happened. Detaching was control and control equaled power.

For several years in my late teens and early 20s, I had a daily marijuana habit. I can now see it was my way of taking control of my mind, emotions and thoughts. Yes, it was a dulling of the senses, but it was my choice. For the hours of the day I couldn’t control my natural reaction to things, there were those hours that I could check out – on my terms – with the marijuana.

The two constants for so long were alcohol and pornography. I think the alcohol was like a more socially acceptable form of marijuana at the time. Alcohol was my way of taking control and deadening my nerve endings temporarily so I didn’t have to feel.

When it comes to the pornography addiction, I believe that was more akin to the rest of the way I lived my life. I owned a business so nobody could boss me around. I was on the City Council because I wanted to decide what happened in my town. No matter the political or social issue, I’d be on Facebook advocating for my side and talking down to those who disagreed. I tried to create a world where I was in complete control, but the only person I fooled into thinking that was true was myself.

Pornography wasn’t about naked people doing sexy things so I could relieve myself. It was about controlling the people on the page of the magazine, in the videos, or the film clips on my computer screen. If they weren’t doing exactly what I wanted, I could just skip to the next picture or clip and eventually I’d find someone doing what I wanted. Since I couldn’t really control people in my real life (despite trying) I was able to use porn as surrogate.

When that stopped being enough, I made the transition to chat rooms. A lot of the time, things never even got sexual. I simply enjoyed steering the conversations and getting women to admit things they probably wouldn’t otherwise. If I couldn’t get the woman to acquiesce to my sexual requests, I’d get her to try on clothes, or rearrange furniture in her room…whatever I could do to gain power in my mind. Power equaled control.

I haven’t had much in the way of triggers or cravings with pornography in a long time and I was asking myself exactly what that was the other day. I was wondering if I reached a point of being “recovered” as you can read about in my most recent blog. I think that the relative ease that I am having being away from both porn and alcohol has to do with the fact that I don’t feel the need for power and control the way I once did.

I think my ordeal of getting arrested, going through the court system, spending six months in jail and being on probation for the past three years – not to mention the radical changes in my lifestyle and daily routines – have put me in a place where I know that there is just so much control I can exert over my life, and a lot of it is just out of my hands and none of my concern.

Truth is, I don’t care who the President is. I know they’re making decisions that may or may not affect my life, but whether I like it or not, I have no control, regardless of what I used to write in Facebook diatribes. My opinion about a border wall means nothing, so why fool myself into thinking it does? That’s a waste of energy I can use on healthier things. I can’t control who my daughter dates now that she is a legal adult and trying to force my will on her probably will do more harm than good. If my wife doesn’t cook me dinner, it’s up to me to get it for myself. I can’t control the people and happenings around me, especially when they don’t go the way I wish.

Those people who were depicted in the pornography I consumed were there because they were either making money or because they had deep-seeded issues…probably both. But they were not there with the sole intention of being used by me. That was a fantasy I concocted in my head.

Ironically, now that I’ve admitted my lack of control and power, I feel more in control and powerful than ever because it’s grounded in reality, not fantasy. And with reality, I don’t need the escape hatch of addiction to fool myself.

 

Is it Possible for an Addict to Go From “Recovering” to “Recovered?”

If you’re reading this on the day I wrote it, April 2, 2019, today marks five years of sobriety from alcohol. I also count this as my sobriety date from pornography, although it technically was a few days earlier. If you would have ever told me I’d go five years without either of my nearly life-long addictions, I’d have said it could only happen once I was put in the ground.

I won’t be attending AA to pick up my five-year chip. I believe I took from the program what I could in about six months of attending meetings. One of the things that I questioned at the time, and question even further now with so much sober time behind me, is if their belief that alcoholism is an ongoing disease and people never truly “heal” or completely “recover” is accurate for every addict.

I have no question in my mind that I was addicted to pornography and alcohol. They were my go-to vices when I needed to curb anxiety and stress for two decades. Despite negative consequences and a desire to stop, I didn’t until the law intervened. For me, being told I’d be thrown in jail (first on bail, then on probation) was the incentive I needed to quit.

I’ll admit, the cravings for porn were strong that first year and the cravings for alcohol were just as strong for around three years. Today though, unless I’m writing for this blog or giving an interview on a podcast, thoughts about using are not there. It’s just not a part of my everyday thinking anymore.

I think it’s healthier for me not to attend multiple meetings per week where discussions of alcohol and pornography are the focus. I appreciate the newcomers who are on the verge of falling back into that world of addiction, but I’ve met so many people with long-term sobriety who didn’t take the 12-Step route to know it can be another road to success.

I spent years (and continue to attend) in therapy, learning what happened in my life to contribute to the addictions starting. I have also spent years carefully crafting a new life where my routines are different, my motivations are different and I dutifully pay attention to my mental health.

So, am I still a recovering addict? According to most of the messaging, yes. I’ll never actually “recover”. Can one be an addict yet not actively participate in their addiction, nor having cravings? I’m not sure. Someone who played professional baseball from 1970 to 1984 is not still a baseball player. Someone who stopped smoking in 1997 is not still a smoker. Someone who spent their single life as a womanizer, but remains devoted in marriage is not still a philanderer. So why am I still an alcoholic and a porn addict?

I think the answer for most is, “It’s safer to consider my addiction as an active, living thing instead of a behavior of the past. I’m just one bad choice away from being back there.”

I understand that line of thinking, but aren’t I just one bad choice away from being a heroin user or starting a gambling addiction? We’re all just one bad choice away from ruining our lives, addict or not.

I believe addiction is a disease. It’s been proven by science. But science has also proven there are many diseases that people recover fully from. Is it possible addiction is one of those diseases?

I’m not completely there yet, but I have a feeling at some point, there is going to be an evolution in my mindset from “recovering” to “recovered” and I’m not worried about it being the slippery slope that returns me to the addictions. While I hopefully will always educate and inform about the dangers of addiction, I think the personal danger can dissipate to nearly nothing over time for many people.

Maybe this is just a matter of semantics. We love to label things in our society and we also tend to catastrophize for the worst-case scenario. When I was in rehab, the program was geared the same toward me, who needed only one trip each for alcohol and porn, as it was the person who had been 12 times and never been successful. I realistically probably didn’t need the same level of care that they did.

If constant self-monitoring and keeping your addiction top-of-mind, even after a decade, is what you need to stay sober, then please, fight the daily fight. I don’t want anything I say to dissuade you from continuing on with a program that works for you. I’ll never say that I wasn’t “really” addicted because I don’t need to white-knuckle it day-to-day anymore.

I also think it’s OK if you’re not struggling day-to-day. I don’t think it minimizes your battle and I don’t think you have to apologize for a recovery that the mainstream doesn’t acknowledge. I think it’s actually the place that most addicts strive to arrive at. I’m here, and I’m grateful.

I’ve Returned After Dealing with A Mental Health Crisis

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything here. I promised myself that I wouldn’t post just for the sake of it as a New Year’s resolution and unlike just about every other resolution, I really seem to be sticking to it…maybe almost too much.

Most of my absence over the last month-and-a-half has to do with the fact that I have been battling a bout of anxiety unlike I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve always been an anxious person, but this involved things that I could intellectually recognize were false – like my sudden aversion to make left turns in the car – but I still had crippling fear. Thankfully, my doctor put me on two new medications and they appear to be starting to work in earnest.

I stay on top of my mental health these days as if it were a full-time job. I’m 43 years old now and was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder at 22 and bipolar disorder at 26. While I was in and out of therapy and generally took medication as prescribed, I was not militant in watching my mental health, especially in my mid-30s.

Instead of making sure my mental health was taken care of – and taking steps to correct it if not – I used my addictions to pornography and alcohol as the crutches to get me through the tough days. The stress and anxiety I felt in life was like a fire and my addictions were a bucket of water used to temporarily extinguish them.

Except it wasn’t a bucket of water. It was more like a bucket of gasoline. And with years and years of throwing gasoline on that fire, it was destined to eventually burn out of control.

That inferno came to a head five years ago last week, when I was arrested for crossing the line in looking at pornography that strayed from “young woman” to “older girl.” I never would have ever guessed I could be the kind of person who crosses past the line of legality, but I was at the end of a long run of not taking care of mental health.

I look back to that day and while it was the rock bottom moment of my life, I also wonder how much further rock bottom would have got had it not been for the police intervention. I wonder if I’d actually be here today or if my addictions would have led me to an early death.

The best thing for me to do a month ago was step away from my work, step away from this blog and simply focus on my mental health. My therapist put it to me so I didn’t feel guilty shying away from my usual responsibilities. She said that if I had broken both of my hands, I’d simply need to sit there and let them heal before I moved forward. Since I was in a time of crisis with my mental health, I needed to simply sit there and heal before I moved forward. Just because you can see the broken hands but not the broken mind doesn’t mean it’s equally as important to let heal.

I urge you if you think you have any mental health issues to see your primary care physician to discuss it and potentially get referred to a therapist or psychiatrist. There is no shame in taking care of yourself mentally, and as I showed from my neglect, the consequences can be damning.

 

Brody Stevens Made Me Feel Better About Myself When I Needed It

Lost in the news of the oversexed (R. Kelly, Robert Kraft) on Friday, there was a small celebrity news item that if you blinked you missed it. A minorly famous comic, Brody Stevens, took his own life in Los Angeles at the age of 48.

In early June 2014, I was only two days out of a 70-day stay at a Palm Springs rehab center for my alcoholism when my brother, who lived in L.A., suggested we go to The Comedy Store to see that night’s showcase.

One-by-one, the comics (including Marc Maron and SNL’s Leslie Jones) did their sets. Brody Stevens came on as the last comic of the night. I knew him from The Hangover and little things he’d done on Comedy Central, but mostly from having read about him recently having had a meltdown on a Twitter, scaring those in the comedy world for threatening suicide via social media.

I knew the tradition at The Comedy Store was that the last comic was allowed to go as long as they wanted. By the time he took the stage, probably only 40 people were left in the crowd. By the time he left the stage over an hour later, shortly after midnight, about 10 of us were left.

He did the most non-traditional set I’d ever seen in that he didn’t tell a single joke. I don’t think I laughed in that 70 or 80 minutes once.

Instead of telling jokes, he acted as a sort of group therapy facilitator for those of us who were left in the crowd, asking questions about people’s lives and providing feedback.

I was one of the people who he talked with first, when I hesitantly raised my hand after he asked who was on medication for their mental health. In most scenarios, opening yourself up like that to a comic on stage is license for ridicule.

Instead, he shared what medication he was on at that point and how it was affecting him. After learning I was from Maine, he asked what I was doing in L.A.

Now, keep in mind, I’d just done 70 difficult days at rehab, having left home after getting arrested in a major scandal. To say I was fragile and still processing things was an understatement. I didn’t know if I wanted to open myself up, but I figured they preached living an honest life in rehab, so I should do it in front of this small group at a famous L.A. comedy club.

“I just finished two months at a rehab in Palm Springs,” I said.

“Congratulations! That’s awesome, my friend! My mom lives in Palm Springs!” he said, excitedly. “I’m going to visit her on Thursday and get a massage at Massage Envy while I’m there. You see, we have more connections! That’s what this is all is about. It’s about connections.”

After another minute he moved onto others, playing a game of invisible catch with one young audience member and counseling a fellow comic who was having a rough, drunken night to name but two of his other interactions.

When the show was over, my brother and I agreed it was the most unorthodox, yet extraordinary set we’ve ever seen. It has stuck with me like few other performances I’ve ever seen, even to this day.

Brody Stevens was right about life being all about making connections. He was able to make a connection with every person who stayed in the room that night. It didn’t matter there was only 10 of us around at the end. It was something special to behold.

While I now am pretty much an open book to people who ask about my story, I wasn’t back then. I didn’t know how to deal with my issues in a public forum or what I should tell people. Brody Stevens was the first person who made me realize I didn’t need to be afraid to share my story.

It really made me sad to see that, according to reports, he’d told comics he’d pulled himself off of his meds not too long ago because it dulled his creativity. It clearly also reawakened the mental health demons he wrestled with. He hung himself on Friday, unable to cope any longer.

I was struck by how many very famous comedians told stories about Stevens in the day or two after his death on social media. Despite not making it to those levels of fame, he clearly entertained and touched those who did get lucky in a way few of their fellow comics can.

I’ll never get to see Brody Stevens perform a second time. I’m just grateful I got the first.

 

Yes, Recovery Does Get Easier

While porn addiction isn’t exactly a happy topic, I feel like I sometimes tend to be about doom-and-gloom, often specifically looking for negative statistics to show what a problem the addiction is, and will become in our society.

I rarely talk about what it’s like for me today, nearly five years into recovery. For those wondering the big question “Does it ever get easier?” I’m here to tell you that yes, it does, but you have to find the way to make it easier.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about cognitive behavioral therapy. If you have a behavior, even one that reaches an addictive level, I urge you to seek out a therapist who specializes in CBT.

When I was at both of my rehabs, there were the naysayers and people who didn’t want to be there. I remember one time, there was an especially mouth drug addict. He was young and it was clear his parents forced him to be there or he’d get cut off. There are always a few those at every rehab.

“You’re just here to brainwash us!” he once blurted out to a clinician who was running one of our group activities.

He stopped, walked over to the guy, looked him straight in the eye and said one of the most truthful things I’ve ever heard.

“If you’re not here to get your brain washed, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t you think you all need a little bit of brainwashing?” he asked the addict.

A few days later, the anti-brainwasher was kicked out for hooking up with one of the young women he shared his drug of choice with at the facility. It’s funny how it’s never the sex or porn addicts that hook up at these places.

In a nutshell, CBT is self-brainwashing.

The other idea this clinician introduced me to was the concept of the “pre-lapse.” His contention was that once you’re at the stage of relapse, you’re going to engage in your addiction, but if you can nip it in the bud in advance, you’ll never reach relapse stage. There are a series of almost ritualistic thoughts and behaviors most addicts, regardless of the specific addiction, go through prior to using. Once that chain of events begins, it’s hard to derail it.

I learned how to derail the pre-lapse with cognitive behavioral therapy. I used it to tackle both my alcohol and porn problems and although muscle memory has made coping with the addictions easier, I still have CBT in back pocket.

As long as I live and I see an ad for beer on television, I’m going to have the Pavlovian response of thinking it looks tasty. That’s because the first beer or two is tasty. It’s when I feel this way that I pause and remind myself that I’ve never stopped at one or two and can’t stop at one or two, so I can’t have any. That works now. When the pull was harder years ago, I’d start thinking about all of the horrible things I’d done or said when I was drunk and how I never wanted to go down that route again. Eventually, maybe the commercials won’t trigger any response.

With porn, if I see a beautiful woman on TV or in the movies, I’ll sometimes have the immediate thought, “I wonder if she’s done a nude scene.” In years past, that would lead me to one of those celebrity porn websites. Today though, I’m able to pause and ask myself, “What does it matter if she’s done a nude scene? What will I see that I’ve never seen before?” I find that when I boil porn down to its essence, naked people being objectified, I want nothing to do with it.

And whether it’s alcohol or porn, I’m able to look back at the last six years: First, my worst year of addiction, then getting in legal trouble, attending two rehabs and hundreds of hours of therapy, a six-month jail sentence, hurting so many people close to me, almost bankrupting myself all leading to what is today a very isolated, often lonely life. My choices with alcohol and porn led me here and having spent time with addicts, I know I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Reflecting back on these last six years is a quick trick to put any porn or alcohol triggers to rest.

Yes, it’s easier now going into Year 5 of recovery than it was Year 3 and certainly Year 1. For those of you who are in the early stages, don’t fret. Just stick with it. You have control over your actions, even if you need someone to teach you how. Seek out a CBT therapist and make the recovery journey a successful one.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – January Edition

I haven’t written a trivial thoughts entry yet for January and since we’re both at the end and I have no thoughts worthy of a long-form entry, it’s the perfect intersection of deadline and laziness.

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I had a fascinating conversation with a friend the other day. I have been engaging in a little more anti-porn talk on the podcasts I appear on and presentations I make lately. I’ve tried not to come off as anti-porn because I believe the people who need the most help are pro-porn. Being anti-porn is passing judgment and addicts generally don’t respond well to being judged. That said, I also fully subscribe to the idea that all porn is objectification. There is no other reason to look at pornography than to objectify the person in the images being looked at or watched. Pornhub doesn’t exist to play “Guess this person’s IQ!”

I mentioned that porn is never a good thing because of the objectification, my friend asked the question if all objectification is wrong. I said that I thought it was, even when it’s a simple as seeing a pretty girl on the street. I’m not saying it can be helped necessarily, but I did say it was wrong. He brought up the idea of people making themselves look good, especially for a blind date. Aren’t those people specifically trying to appeal to the other person on nothing more than a visual level? He also brought up the fact that most people don’t want to be in a relationship with somebody unless they find their partner physically attractive. He said that’s just part of how evolution works.

I thought it was a fascinating point to make and one that I’m still wrestling with. I’d be curious to hear your opinions if there is such a thing as acceptable, or perhaps even necessary, self-objectification.

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I was going through the list of bloggers that I follow and saw the number had exceeded 100. It doesn’t feel that way when I look through the Reader section of WordPress, so I checked into the blogs I follow and it was amazing how many people haven’t kept up with their blogs. I went through and deleted every blog that hadn’t updated in at least four months. By the time I was done, I only had 56 blogs left. Some of them were amazing and I wonder what happened to those people. Others, often about addiction, just abruptly stopped and I worry what happened to those people.

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When I first went to rehab for alcoholism in 2014, I was told by a recovered heroin user that people who are heavy addicts will often dream for years about their addiction, and using. I have to admit, that’s never happened with me and pornography. I have never had a dream about it. I did however, go through a long stretch of having dreams about alcohol and over the last few weeks, they have returned.

Almost all of the dreams are the same. I am usually at a bar or a party and somebody offers me a pint of beer. I say no. Then, the dream jumps forward and I’m sitting with a couple of empty pint glasses in front of me and I immediately recoil in disgust. I can’t understand how I could have drank those beers since I haven’t had alcohol going back to April 1, 2014. I am thoroughly disturbed in the dream at the idea that I “just forgot” I had years of sobriety.

There was a wrinkle in the latest dream. I was faced with drinking and I said to myself, “Well, since I already slipped up, I guess I could” and for the first time in years, I recall drinking beer in one of my dreams. I think it’s fascinating that in my dream world, I relapsed in one dream and used it as an excuse to continue drinking in another dream. This is just another reminder that for all the energy I put toward pornography addiction awareness, I personally have to keep just as strong a watch over the alcohol.