What was inpatient rehab really like? Part I

It’s been nearly a year since I talked about my experience at inpatient rehab, and the positive reaction I got to the last Q&A has made me think it’s probably time to revisit it from a first-person point-of-view deeper than I have before.

This is going to be a multi-part piece as I think it’s worthy of really explaining what rehab is like. I’ll try to stay under 1,000 words per piece.

I’m going to talk about my experience at the second rehab I attended in the summer of 2015, specifically for the pornography addiction. The first facility I attended was in California for alcohol treatment. While it was a transformative experience, it was more about me being alone with my thoughts in the desert vs. any amazing modalities of treatment they provided.

The rehabilitation center I’m talking about, Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was an intense and invaluable experience. I believe that if I had not spent seven weeks in that hot Lone Star State sun I would not be the person I am today.

I’ve said it before, but on paper, rehab shouldn’t work. You shouldn’t be able to take 30-40 very broken people, many of whom are forced into the situation by their family or the law, and get positive results.

There are quite a few rules one must follow. In the case of Sante, you had to be up by 6:30 a.m., at the morning group for 7:30, attend your classes, groups and one-on-one meetings during the day, and be in bed by 11 p.m. Although most of the classes were co-ed, men and women were kept separate for many activities, including meals, and they were not allowed onto each other’s side of the facility where the dorms were. Men and women were also not allowed to be left alone in one-on-one situations.

You were given 15 minutes a day for telephone calls, were not allowed to leave the property except in the rarest of circumstances and all outside media, including magazines and books, were considered contraband. The only connection to outside news we had was a copy of the Dallas Morning News and whatever we were told on the telephone.

The biggest news event that happened while I was there was the national ruling allowing gay marriage. I’m from Maine, so it had been a thing here for a while, but if you’re someone like me who is social liberally and you enjoy watching conservatives squirm in the face of change – which I do – being in the heart of the Bible Belt when that went down was glorious.

I think I didn’t have too rough a transition into the jail environment because in many ways, rehab was a lot like a minimum security prison. Sure, you could walk away, but to where? It was like Alcatraz in the middle of nowhere.

In my circumstance, I had to stay. I was there for the therapy, but my lawyer also thought a treatment completed certificate would go a long way for my legal case. I learned so much about myself, but I had extra incentive to stick around and see things through to the end.

At first, the way they do things seems foreign. In the morning meeting, each person goes around and says who they are, what they are grateful for and what their plan is for the day while the group responds. For instance, I might say,

“Hello, my name is Josh”

“Hi, Josh” the group says back in Stepford Wives unison.

“…and I’m a pornography addict.”

“But you’re so much more,” they say together in a dead montone.

“Yes I am. Today I am grateful for the support of my family.”

“Yes, you are,” they say.

“And today I’m going to work on my listening skills.”

“Yes you will,” they respond, and then the next person goes.

On day one, this seems completely fucking nutty. By day 21, you’re chanting along with the rest of them. Throughout both of my rehabs, I heard a lot of people say they thought that the program was designed as something of a brainwashing exercise. Most counselors or professionals always shrugged it off, but my favorite reaction came from one counselor who agreed.

“Look at the choices you’ve been making. Don’t you think a little brainwashing might be exactly what you need?” he told somebody. I thought it was brilliant.

There was also a section of the morning meeting where people would self-report breaking the rules, or admit to not keeping up a promise. For instance, if I didn’t work on my listening skills, I was supposed to self-report the following day.

The final section of the meeting was confrontations. This was when somebody else would confront you about one of your behaviors and you couldn’t respond for 24 hours. We used the “When You/I Feel” confrontation model.

For instance, I might say, “Michael, when you stop coming to yoga and meditation classes, I feel worried that you’re not taking in the full scope of rehab.”

The next day at the morning meeting, you’re supposed to say if the confrontation fits, or does not fit, and leave it at that.

This caused a little bit of bad blood among certain people and I realized very earlier on that I did not want to confront people. I believed that each of us had a program to work and if somebody didn’t want to put their all into it, or didn’t want to follow their rules, that was on them. One of the counselors there confronted me on this opinion, but I still hold true to it today. Maybe it’s wrong, but unless you’re doing something massively wrong or hurting someone else, it’s not my spot to police you.

 

Q&A Time: Should I Go to Inpatient Rehab for My Addiction?

QUESTION: I have been told by my girlfriend that she thinks I should go to rehab for my porn addiction. I don’t think I need to leave for a month because it’s not that bad. What should I do?

ANSWER: This is probably worth a conversation with a professional so they can weigh-in. Assuming they don’t see losing you for a month or two as lost revenue, they’ll probably guide you in the right direction.

I probably urge people to go to inpatient rehab quicker than most, but that’s because my two stints, first for alcohol and a year later for porn, were the most transformative experiences of my life. Both times I walked into the facility as one person and walked out somebody else.

It’s easy to make excuses why you shouldn’t go. You have a job, help with the kids, have other responsibilities. I would counter that needing a break to take care of one’s health is just as important as all of those things.

My wife ran the house when I did my 10-week and 7-week stints at inpatient rehab, respectively. Thankfully, we were in a financial position where that was possible, but even if we didn’t have savings, I would have found a way. I would have asked for help from family and friends. People don’t want to do that, but people generally like to help people who are helping themselves. Insurance can help and many of these places will consider payment plans. If finances preclude you from one rehab, keep shopping around. I had horrible insurance for my alcohol rehab. I just flat-out couldn’t go to most, but eventually, I found one and I can’t imagine it being a more positive experience if the amenities had been better. I haven’t had a drink since I went there. Isn’t that the point?

I’ve encountered so many people who make excuses why they can’t go to rehab, and while they are almost always valid, I also bring up the point that my wife ran the household for six months while I served my jail sentence. In that case, I did have to ask my parents for help, and it wasn’t a surprise when they were there for us.

With jail, I didn’t have a choice to go or not. We had to adapt. What would happen if your partner was caught for drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days. Would your world implode? Probably not. You’d figure it out and you’d get through it. My wife is proof of that. You can adapt when you HAVE to, and since this is your health we’re talking about, it makes sense to adapt.

I actually think the time that I was away was like a rehab for my family. They needed time away from my energy and my illness. They needed to reconnect instead of hovering around me like satellites. I actually made the comment to my wife shortly thereafter that they all seemed to be far more functional and healthy when I returned both times because they didn’t have to deal with me.

I know people who have had successful recovery having never stepped foot into rehab and I know plenty of people who have never been able to get into a recovery groove despite having gone to rehab five or six times. Like anything, it’s the level of commitment one puts into their recovery. It’s hard, really hard some days, but rehab was the foundation upon which I built my recovery.

I truly believe I would not have had the strength to maintain recovery as well as I did had I not gone to recovery and begun the process of understanding how I became the person I did. Maybe I would have reached the same place over a longer time period with just one-on-one and group therapy at home, but I know just how much inpatient rehab did for me.

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If you liked this Q&A, check out the others HERE

You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start getting help. Click HERE

If you’d like somebody to talk to who has been there about porn addiction, be it yours or someone you love, but aren’t ready to make the leap to get help from the medical community, I can be a great resource. For more information, click HERE

DISCLAIMER: While many call me a pornography addiction expert, I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Feeling human again, if only for a moment

Lately, I feel like I’ve been in a place where I recognize just how few people, especially where I live, are ever going to be ongoing parts of my life again. As time marches forward, and the reality of the situation sinks in, it’s made me a bit depressed. That negative feeling was broken, if only momentarily, last night and it felt wonderful.

As I’ve said in the past, I’m a loner who doesn’t like to be lonely, but since I was arrested back in March 2014, I’ve been living in exile – just as much in my head as in my home.

I know people have short memories, but I also know how prominent I was in my community, publishing the regional magazine and serving on the City Council. It’s been 4.5 years since my arrest, but there are still the moments I’m out in public, see somebody I recognize, make eye contact, and watch them hurry away as quickly as a roach when the lights are turned on.

Because of this, I don’t approach people. I don’t know what people’s true opinions of me are and I don’t want to nurture an awkward situation. I also stay away from places that I know are well-populated. I go out to dinner with my family on Wednesday or Thursday nights, leaving Friday and Saturday for the non-convict crowd.

Last night, I was at one of the two decent independent Italian restaurants in town with my family.

When I was given my seat, I recognized a couple who were sitting with a larger party about 15 feet away. They were the parents of my high school girlfriend. We were together for about a year-and-a-half if I recall, maybe a little longer. I became much closer to her parents than she came to mind.

Family was priority at her house, and while my nuclear bunch were good, these folks had the market cornered on what family meant and they welcomed me into their arms back then. I haven’t had a set of parents as cool since, including my wife’s. When we eventually broke up our junior year of high school, I remember telling people I’d miss her family more than her.

I knew I wasn’t going to get up and go say hi, and part of me hoped that my features changed enough in the last 25 years and they wouldn’t recognize me.

At one point, when my wife and daughter went to the restroom, my ex-girlfriend’s mother came over to say hello.

“Josh, do you remember me?” she said.

“Yes, Mrs. L, I do. How are you? I responded, although I used her real last name.

“How have you been doing?”

“Very well. I’m healthy and keeping everything in balance. This is my son, Kaden,” I said.

“Hi Kaden. Your dad and my daughter were friends in high school,” she explained.

“I think she was my only girlfriend in high school,” I told them both. She was. No thinking needed.

We exchanged a couple pleasantries of a memory she carries about me and where both of us were living now, then she said the most important thing:

“We got your book and read it. It was good. How are things going?” she asked.

“I’m at four-and-a-half years sober from both addictions. I’m working on a new book for partners of porn addicts,” I said.

“We’re so proud of you. I’m glad you’re doing well, give me a hug.”

I hugged Mrs. L and she made her way back to her seat.

My wife and daughter returned and I told them about the exchange. I think my wife could tell it really stuck with me through dinner and into the night.

It’s the first time I’ve talked with anybody who I was once close with, read about my ordeal in the media, made the decision to read the book, and either as a result of the book or my confirmation of doing fine now, literally embraced me back into their life.

I’m not going over for dinner anytime soon. Hell, I may never see them again in my life. But that lifted my spirits in a way they haven’t been lifted in a long time. So much of my life is spent waiting for people to make me feel bad about myself that having someone come and provide a boost of confidence is unfortunately foreign.

I know Mrs. L doesn’t realize just how much that meant to me, but I hope that I can return the favor to someone else someday.

The manicotti was good, too.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Being On Probation Without Having to Commit a Crime to Find Out

I’ve shared quite a few stories from jail, but once being locked up was done, my experience with the criminal justice system was hardly over. Jail is really just the middle part. At first you have the court system to wind your way through. That took me 22 months. Then, jail was 6 months. The final part, probation, is 36 months in my case. As of this writing, I’m now less than 10 months away from it being done.

When I was in jail, I learned that many inmates took longer sentences so probation would not be part of their lives upon leaving lock-up. I couldn’t understand why they’d make that decision. Isn’t a month in jail and two years of probation a better deal than three months in jail? At least you’re free.

When I first visited my lawyer, he suggested that we pitch a long-term probationary period of like 8 years to the DA and judge, while trying to keep me out of jail completely. That didn’t happen, and looking back now, I’m glad.

The judge, at your sentencing, also creates the terms of your conditional release, better known as probation. There’s the boilerplate stuff, like no committing other crimes, but then they will tailor things to your specific case. For instance, I was not allowed to move home with my family after jail until I passed a polygraph stating I’d never put my hands on a child. I knew I’d pass it with flying colors, but I still had to live with my parents for about three months after I got out while waiting for it to be scheduled. And while I knew I would pass, I was anxiety-ridden over the possibility of a false positive.

I was also forced to join a weekly sex offenders’ support group. Once I was deemed ready, which took about a year, I was moved to a monthly support group. I’ve grown to enjoy the group, so I’ll probably continue when I’m off probation, but as for now, if I don’t attend this group, which costs $40 per session (that’s $160/monthly in the weekly group – a large amount for some of the guys) I can be put back into jail.

That’s really the thing about probation, while it’s not difficult, there are so many strings attached that it’s like a black cloud hanging over my head. The specter of being sent back to jail always looms.

I first had to report every two weeks to the probation officer who handled sex offenses. He was supposed to have 30 people to oversee, but had closer to 80. After proving I was trustworthy over seven or eight months, I was transferred to a different PO that handled every kind of criminal.

POs are allowed to drop by and do a search of your house at any time. My first PO visited once in the beginning and my second PO did the same. I think their caseloads are just so large that they don’t have the time to make visits to people they don’t believe are at a high risk of recidivism.

My PO only sees me at the office once a month now, and most of the time his only question to me is, “Do you need anything from me this month?” and the answer is no. I’m guessing that they can tell that I am the kind of person who made a terrible mistake, follow the rules they provided me and am not going to be any trouble. I couldn’t just say that in the beginning, I had to prove it to them over time.

Most of the people I came in contact with in jail, and in the waiting room of probation, are there for drug violations that happened while they were on probation. They have a true addiction and despite getting nailed for having drugs at some point, the risk of being put back in jail is nothing compared to the demon of addiction, so they use again. Most who violate their probation are nabbed via a dirty urine test.

These are the people who will take a sentence of three months in jail and no probation instead of one month in jail and two years of probation. If they are not on probation, they can’t violate probation. Most have no interest in curbing their habit, or available support to even try, so skipping probation is the safest way to legally return to their habit. Nobody will be testing their urine.

While it was far worse in the beginning, I still get nervous on the days I go to probation. The PO has the right to determine I did something wrong (even if it’s not illegal for the rest of you) and bring me to jail. I haven’t even come close, but knowing that could happen ruins my day.

I did six months in jail and got three years of probation. Knowing what I know now, if I could have done an extra month in jail for those three years, I would have said yes. It would have meant no nerve-wracking polygraphs, no asking for permission when I want to leave the state, no court-mandated support groups, no $10 monthly fee for simply being on probation, no sick feelings when the first Monday of the month rolls around.

I now feel like I’m just playing out the clock, but much like I breathed a sigh of relief the day I left jail, I’m going to exhale just as deeply my last day of probation.

 

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – September Edition

I just realized I hadn’t written a trivial rantings article for September yet. While I know nobody was waiting for it, I have a lot of random stuff on my mind today, so it’s a pleasant coincidence.

First, I just did the math, and near as I can tell, I have hit the 500 mark in books sold. To the average person, that may not seem like a lot, but when you dig into sites like Amazon and know what it means to be listed #4,505,294 on their best seller list, you’ll understand why the vast majority of books never make it to 100 sales. The book was released on January 10 and my first goal for the year was 200, then it became 365, then it became 500. I don’t think I’m going to set another goal, I’m just going to be grateful for further sales and hope that reading the book is as helpful for people as writing it was for me.

My Internet is going about 10 times slower than usual today. The irritation might be good. It helps me realize just how easy my life is compared to many in this world.

Did you read my book, The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About: How I Let My Pornography Addiction Hurt People and Destroy Relationships? If you didn’t, click the link and go by a couple of copies. They make great gifts and provoke terrific conversations that start with, “Why the hell did you give me this??!!” If you did already buy it or read a free copy, and thought that it was good, can you go give it a review? I’ve been stuck on 9 for some time now and while I understand being hesitant to tell the world you liked the book, I’ve been told that every review exponentially helps Amazon decide how to rank searches.

So I broke my vow of no politics the last two days and I watched the hearings about the sexual harassment/assault charges against the nominee for the Supreme Court. I think I watched because I happened to see a little of his original testimony, and wondered how this story would unfold. Regardless of what I think should or shouldn’t happen, I was really saddened by the divide this country is in socially. I heard somebody on TV say that they think we’re headed toward a cultural civil war and while that may be a little hyperbole, I don’t think it’s far off. There are people in power, and so many more who support them blindly, that believe they are right, you are wrong, end of story and they exist in both political parties. I don’t think this can end well because there’s going to have to be something that brings people back together and aside from all agreeing to put yellow ribbons and American flags on our cars for a few weeks in late September 2001, this country is just getting further apart. I always say when I do podcasts or radio shows that there is no stereotypical porn addict. Well, there is also no stereotypical American. It’s our differences that make us stronger, not the little tribes we feel better belonging to because they parrot our opinions back to us. This also reminded me to return to not watching the news.

A few months back, I wrote about a library in New Hampshire where I was supposed to give a presentation and how the assistant library director had to write me with her tail between her legs apologizing for cancelling. Apparently, the new librarian was worried nobody would attend because it would be an admission they are an addict, despite the fact it’s advertised as an informational talk from a pornography addiction expert. Along with cancelling, the library had my book for over three months at that point and it still wasn’t on the shelf. The assistant librarian said she wanted to read it to make sure there wouldn’t be anything someone objected to in the book. I didn’t get into a semantics discussion over different ideas presented that may not please everyone, especially after she promised it would get on the shelf soon. Two months later…still waiting. If you don’t want my book, that’s fine, but don’t lie.

With the brilliant people at the Onondaga County Library in Syracuse, NY, deciding that my book was fit for their shelves, I am now in 246 verifiable libraries in the world. I still find it odd that New Zealand has more libraries with the book than at least a dozen states in the US. If you’re too cheap to buy my book, you can probably get it from your library or on loan through a library that has it in your state. And if you live in New York City or Los Angeles, complain to them I’m not in the library yet. I really want to get in those two and can’t seem to crack them.

As always, thank you for reading and/or following my blog. I used to write a weekly op-ed for a newspaper I was editor for. I really cherished the thought that my opinions and ideas were getting out to thousands of people who, whether they rejected or embraced what I wrote, at least were considering it. I know I’m dealing in hundreds instead of thousands these days, but nonetheless, thank you for considering my words.

Must I Believe in God to Successfully Battle Pornography Addiction?

There’s a group who I really worry about when it comes to tackling the beast of pornography addiction: Atheists. If you have ever spent more than 10 seconds researching pornography addiction beyond scientific journals, it’s almost impossible to find any first-person testimony that doesn’t heavily rely on a God for redemption from the “sin” of pornography addiction.

Please note, I do not want any of this to come off as religion bashing. If you end up offended, I apologize in advance. I think those who know me recognize I find religion fascinating and mean no harm when I have questions.

I think the message may be getting lost that it is possible to overcome pornography addiction without the help of a higher power.

Defining my spirituality was important during recovery, because I’d never done it before other than to say I was a “non-practicing atheist.” I just never gave religion much thought. It has been at the center of most of the great wars in history and seems like something designed to divide people, and only bring them together if they were like-minded.

I never really appreciated the difference between spirituality and religion. When I finally had time to think about it and deeply reflect, I recognized I’m one of the most faith-filled people I know. I have this almost naïve instinct to believe everything is going to turn out OK. Even if I don’t understand why something is happening the way it is now, one day it will be clear. I take comfort in that concept, but I also recognize it’s not a provable fact.

I also realized that I felt like there is some form of energy out there that serves as a stabilizer. Our world is chaotic, but that’s nothing compared to how the universe operates as a whole. Some kind of balancing energy keeps things in check. We may one day understand it, but we don’t now.

In my book (currently discounted on Amazon) I talk a lot about how there have been many times in my life I’ve stood in front of a crowd with no idea what I was going to say and suddenly could belt out a well-delivered 30-minute speech. Where did this ability come from? I called it “The Universe.”

Suffice to say, I have a spiritual side. I do not, however, have a religious side. I’ve never heard anybody describe their higher power the way I describe mine, and if somebody does read this and it sounds like exactly what like you believe, I don’t want to get together and sing songs about it. My higher power doesn’t need to be worshipped. It doesn’t love. It doesn’t hate. It just is. Us getting together to cheer it on would be a waste of time.

I honestly am envious of people who subscribe to the same God. I assume there is a sense of community in believing the same thing. I just know that we don’t have the same higher power and there isn’t any book written by your higher power that can convince me that you’re right and I’m wrong. I’m actually not interested in who’s right or wrong.

Which Addictions are Sins?

I appreciate those people who very much believe that God has helped them with their pornography addiction problem. If you’re able to syphon off some of the commitment you have to your religion to keep you away from porn, I say more power to you.

If you go through the WordPress search engine, you’ll be besieged with first-person accounts of God delivering people from porn addiction. Try the same thing for cigarette addiction. God hasn’t transformed anyone in that department.

Why porn and not cigarettes?

I think it has to do with the idea that pornography is not an actual addiction. I believe that the religious see it as an affliction, which is different. Cigarette smoking is not seen as morally wrong, whereas porn is a gift from the Devil. I don’t think many people who go to church see cigarette smoking as a sin. It’s a poor choice, but not an affront to God.

Here’s the problem with that conclusion: It’s the same thing. While cigarettes will do additional negative things to your body, the actual addictive nature is exactly the same. The same brain mechanisms that provide dopamine, oxytocin, and the other pleasure-center chemicals are performing the same way whether it’s cigarettes, porn, gambling, drugs or any other addiction.

Want to experience addiction? Turn your fucking phone off and put it in a drawer. I know far too many people who wouldn’t last 10 minutes. We have a world of people addicted to their phone who don’t realize it. Is that the work of the Devil, Apple or is it just something that evolved and has no real religious connection?

We’ve seen porn addiction explode since the Internet was introduced. I would guess that there were probably similar spikes when every home suddenly had a VCR or when adult magazines like Playboy and Penthouse were suddenly available at every corner store. The next explosion will likely have something to do with virtual reality.

Addiction is a physical condition. That’s long been accepted by just about every medical professional. Recently pornography addiction was accepted by the World Health Organization as a diagnosable and treatable condition.

I also don’t see a lot of entries where people turn to God to take care of other physical maladies. God doesn’t perform open heart surgery if you’ve got heart disease or conduct chemotherapy sessions for those who have cancer. Both of those jobs are handled by professionals. Some may pray others get better, but for those with the physical issue, they are not told to seek the guidance of God, and go home.

Healing Without God

You can’t pray away a medical condition. Or, perhaps you can, but those are the very rare miracles. The worse the condition, the less likely you are to get your miracle. This suggests miracles are actually just anomalies on a sliding scale, but we can debate that another day.  As far as medical conditions go, I think pornography addiction is on the more mild side of the spectrum. I know that it was on par with my alcoholism mentally, but the booze did far more damage to me physically.

I understand that pornography addiction could be seen as a “pleasure of the flesh” which is forbidden by most religions, but isn’t that just semantics? Couldn’t we just go down a rabbit hole of dueling religious text passages at this point? I mean, there’s a strong argument for not eating shellfish in the Bible…trying to out-passage each other is a fool’s errand. We’d just both be cherry-picking to strengthen our position. And we wouldn’t reach a middle ground. You never reach a middle ground with religion, hence all of the wars.

Had I gone to the Internet immediately after accepting the fact I was a porn addict, I think that the number of first-person anecdotes about beating porn addiction that involved adherence to a specific God’s rules might have scared me off. I can’t pray to the God my parents dragged me to church to learn about for 17 years because I don’t believe in that God, but apparently he has the market cornered on porn addiction recovery.

That’s bad news for the non-Christians or atheists who are porn addicts and are seeking relief.

I came by these many blogs years into recovery and thankfully it wasn’t in the beginning because I may have felt like I had more of an uphill battle than recovery actually was.

The message needs to be presented that you don’t need to believe in anything that you don’t currently believe in to get better. If God helps, great, but much like driving from New York to Los Angeles, there are many routes to take and yours is no more important or valid than mine.

I figured out my spirituality about two years into recovery. It certainly helped in those first two years despite the fact I wasn’t cognizant of it at the time. But even if you believe in nothing, you can beat porn addiction. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.