The Bond Between Sex Addicts and Those With Eating Disorders

Spending seven weeks during the summer of 2015 at the Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was one of the most rewarding, transformational experiences in my life. Since I had been to rehab for my alcoholism 13 months earlier, and spent 10 weeks in that program, I thought I’d be able to breeze in and out of this place, adding to the resume I was trying to build for the judge in my case, showing I was far more ill than evil.

Much like my first experience in California, it didn’t take long before I recognized that while I wasn’t a sex addict in terms of actual intercourse, my decades-long pornography addiction clearly qualified me to be part of Sante’s program.

Sante dealt with four groups of people. There were the traditional drug and alcohol addicts that most rehabs see as their core clientele, but this rehab also dealt with sex addicts and people with eating disorders. They believed that most addicts were cross-addicted and could benefit by having so many resources in one place.

Upon arriving, I never would have thought that I had anything in connection with a female almost half my age whose relationship with food and body image had become toxic. I, frankly, have never really cared what I looked like, maintained a healthy weight with little-to-no diet or exercise, and haven’t met a meal I didn’t enjoy. Forty-eight days later, when I left the facility, they were some of the hardest people to say goodbye to and it’s their stories that stick with me.

The core issues, both with what causes their problems and where solutions exist, are surprisingly similar with sex addicts and sufferers of eating disorders. Many of the same obsessive compulsive urges and impulse control deficiencies with both conditions mirror each other. Cycles of shame, ritual and fantasy are strikingly similar as well.

I’m not going to get into the science of everything. If you want to read more about it, check out Binge Eating, Bulimia and Sexual AddictionThey explain the connection in far less words and far clearer than I ever could.

Where I think we felt the strongest connection was in looking ahead at our lives after leaving Sante. The goal with drugs and alcohol is simple:  Stop. You can’t do that with food and you can’t do that with sexuality. Nobody is ever told that they need to learn to have a healthy relationship with cocaine or meth.

Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy sex life is the post-rehab goal, not completing abstaining. For me, I was using pornography to mask a lot of feelings of pain and rejection, but I was also using it as a surrogate for the real thing. Healthy for me is not using images to soothe, nor to replace physical interaction.

For the folks in the other program, they had to figure out how to consume calories in a healthy way and hopefully change their attitude about what food meant in their lives.

Sex and food weren’t the real problem…what was buried deep within us was. We just used sex and food as a conduit. Unlike those who used drugs and alcohol, we had to figure out how to continue to use these things, but in a healthy way.

Several of the females in the eating disorder program (there was one male) ended up coming to terms with sexual addictions they didn’t think were big problems when they first arrived. It’s easy to point to your main addiction, and explain everything else away as fallout bad choices. It was both impressive and courageous to see these women tackle additional demons.

I think both groups also learned with as much as we surprisingly had in common, that stereotyping anybody with addiction is a mistake. What kind of woman has anorexia? What kind of guy is a sex addict? It’s easy to make broad generalizations until you meet people and hear their stories first-hand. I feel lucky to have had that opportunity.

Some of us were successful when I followed up, others were not. That’s just the story of the people you’ll meet at rehab. It was eye-opening the people I’d meet who I had the most in common with would be from the eating disorder program. It’s a case of not judging a book by its cover, and when it comes to recovery and new ways of thinking, I’ve found an open mindset is the best tool for success.

IF YOU LIKE THIS POST, THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP, WRITTEN IN JULY 2018. READ IT HERE

Until Politicians Understand Addiction, They’ll Never Solve The Problem

More than ever before, I cringe when I hear a politician talk about addiction. Sure, there are plenty serving who are probably hiding addictions to alcohol, gambling, sex or whatever, but these are often the same politicians who rally against help the loudest. I’m not going to get on my soapbox about this hypocrisy today, however.

I cringe because, as I wrote in the most recent blog, if you have not experienced addiction, there is no way to truly understand how it feels inside. At best, the non-addict can see the pain of it in the addicted and witness the fallout of addiction-related decision making. Addiction is a problem, but it’s unlike any other problem out there.

We are now facing an opioid epidemic like never before. Politicians think they can solve the problem, or at least want to tackle it, but they don’t understand the problem to begin with.

There is a logical solution any economist could give you. It’s been proven going after drug dealers doesn’t work. If you want to end the sale of opiates or any other illegal substance, you simply lock-up everyone who has been nabbed using them. The drug user is the customer. If there are no customers, the industry ceases to exist and the dealers have to look elsewhere to make their money. Every industry that has died has seen its customers go away. Why wouldn’t that work here?

The problem to this solution is that plenty of people won’t get arrested and of those who do, they’ll get released someday. If you have an addiction, even if it has strayed into illegal territory, as long as you haven’t harmed another, you shouldn’t be doing a second of jail time. I was not in this category. I deserved what I got because I hurt people with my crime.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert because while I’m an alcoholic, I have never had an issue with drugs beyond a lot of pot smoking in my early 20s, prior to be properly medicated for bipolar disorder. But, I spent a combined 5 months at inpatient rehabilitation facilities and 6 months in jail living side-by-side with drug addicts.

Addicts have a lot in common. Science suggests that regardless of the addiction, the same basic chemical process happens in the brain. Granted, certain addictions won’t cause the additional physical risk of using drugs, but that undying, incontrollable urge to use drugs is something that any addict can relate to and understand.

Addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem. I can’t remember what book I read it in at this point, but it said something like less than 10% of those suffering with addiction don’t have some kind of mental health issue and/or major trauma in their past. These may both go undiagnosed and unrecognized in the user for years, but they’re present. My understanding of my mental health issues came more than a decade before I was able to admit to and address the trauma that happened in my life as a child.

People without addiction seem to think that if you treat the symptom, the problem will go away. You’d think with almost 40 years of clearly failed drug policy in the United States, they’d go a different route, but the things that all addicts need are the not the things that get votes.

We can stereotype and guess at what our politicians’ stances on mental health and/or addressing trauma are, but do you actually know their positions? Do they know their positions? Does anybody know what’s really being done and how success is being measured? I’m among the 99.999% who can say no, I don’t.

You can deal with a sick tree by poking at its leaves. If the illness is in the roots, all you’re doing is landscaping. If all you’re doing to deal with an addict, drug or otherwise, is trying to get them to stop taking whatever substance or engaging in whatever behavior is your perceived issue with them, all you’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, infected wound. It needs to be treated at the source.

I’m not going to get into a giant philosophical partisan political debate because it doesn’t actually solve anything. There are a couple of organizations in this world that have the resources — the money, the brain power, the infrastructure — to solve the great problems that face mankind, but they don’t. The United States government is one of them. A war on drugs, or any addiction, may get votes, but will never work. If we’re going to get to a new level of understanding and solutions with addiction, it needs to be viewed as a humanitarian effort.

Facing the Judgment of Non-Addicts

I remember hearing from a few of my friends who had children before I did that they will change your life and you just can’t help but look at the world differently. I remember thinking that was just one of those “the roses smeller better, the birds sing louder” things you’re supposed to say when you’ve ushered new life onto the planet.

Then I had kids.

And these people were right. Having children and helping to raise them (though my wife deserves probably 80% of the credit) is the most rewarding thing I’ve done with my life. But when it came to noticing the world differently, I absolutely understood what they meant.

Parents view other couples in the world in one of two camps: having kids or not having kids. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, the size of your house, education or where you go on vacation. You either have kids or you don’t.

For those people who don’t have kids, they don’t truly understand how it changes you. Suddenly, your life loses all spontaneity. Your No. 1 priority in life is to make sure this child doesn’t die and therefore, you have to plan out every moment of every day. While those plans evolve as the child grows, it’s more than a decade before you can begin to let your guard down and many more years before it can drop entirely – and I doubt when they are adults you ever really do.

Childless couples tend to not understand how drastic the priorities and choices of their friends with children have to change and in a lot of cases, these friend groups drift apart. It’s simply impossible to understand or relate to someone who has a child if you never have. In many cases, the childless couple thinks you’re making excuses and are generally way off base. They just don’t get it.

The reason I bring this up is because this is how I feel about non-addicts trying to understand addiction.

People who have never had an addiction just don’t get it. Unfortunately, the vast majority never will. There are plenty of non-addicts who work with addicts, but even they can only see the results of addiction. Broken relationships, lost fortunes and legal problems are easy to witness, but understanding the process of what went into it can only be understood by the addict. Understanding why losing everything still doesn’t get a lot of addicts to stop is something the non-addict just can’t fathom.

I don’t know what it’s like to feel the need to have the rush that comes from betting a week’s salary on a hand of blackjack. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and feel like I need to force myself to throw up because my body is ugly, or feel the need to eat half a cake because that might make me feel better. I don’t understand many different kinds of addictions, but I understand addicts because I am one. Those people would rather not indulge in their addictions, but they don’t have the tools or ability to stop.

I know what it likes to be flipping through the channels on an autumn Sunday afternoon, happen upon a football game and begin to salivate with the thought of beer. It still happens and I haven’t picked up a drink in 3.5 years. I know what it’s like to see a movie with a beautiful actress in it and immediately wonder if she’s been naked in any other movie and feel the need to look it up immediately. It still happens despite more than 3.5 of not engaging in that kind of behavior. I drive by places I used to drink and immediately long for a shot of tequila chased with Red Bull. I still fixate on the magazines wrapped in plastic behind the counter at the convenience store, wanting to know what’s in the magazine.

I know the gambler, the food addict or the eating disorder sufferer are all dealing with forces that feel like are beyond their control. Addictions are like magnets. You can try to repel, you can try to ignore, but the attraction is so, so strong. I couldn’t leave my kids alone when they were almost four. I can’t leave my vigilance toward my addictions alone while my recovery is at such a young age, too.

Non-addicts will say it’s a choice and you never should have started. Non-addicts will say you’re weak and should just walk away. You’ll never hear an addict say these things. They get it.

I’d give almost anything to be among the ignorant. I wish I never had any idea what living with an alcohol or pornography addiction is like. For many years, I knew my relationship with booze or porn wasn’t healthy, but nothing to freak out over. I made it to work every day. I paid my mortgage. My family loved me. That’s not the life of an addict.

I was wrong. It’s the life of plenty of addicts.

I wish there was an easy way to explain to non-addicts what it’s like, but much like explaining what it’s like to have a kid to the childless, it’s something that can only be understood through experience.

Instead of seeing the addicted as just like you, but somehow flawed, view them like a childless parent should view their friends with kids. They’re playing by a different set of rules, have different priorities, issues and problems that you don’t understand or relate to, but that doesn’t make them any better or worse. It’s OK to not understand. Just don’t condemn.

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.

My Time in 12-Step Programs, Part I

I do not actively attend 12-step meetings for any of my addictions at the moment. I explain it away as I’m getting what I need at weekly one-on-one therapy sessions and the sentence-mandated sex offender support group that I attend, also weekly. That’s roughly three hours of talking about my addictions with others and seems to suffice for the time being.

Should things change with my current therapy schedule I would entertain the idea of returning to 12-step meetings, but I would have to find the right group. I think that there are some people wired to take to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous better than others. I’m not really a follower, I’m a leader, which is probably why my favorite 12-step meetings that I felt I got the most out of were the ones when I was chairing the meeting.

I attended my first 12-step meeting at a church in Laguna Beach, California. It was the second or third day I was at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, called Spencer Recovery Center. That facility, across the street from the beach, was a culture shock to me. Several years later I look back and wonder if I was just in such a bad state of mind because of the abuse I’d heaped on myself and the recent arrest or if it really was a bad fit. About a week after being there, I was transferred to their less-intense location in Palm Springs.

While most of my group were heroin addicts who were told to identify as an alcoholic so we wouldn’t be looked at sideways, it was at that AA meeting I first felt like I could identify with other addicts. At Spencer’s Laguna Beach location, it was mostly kids under 25 who were still actively using at the facility (drugs were sent over a fence nightly) who were mandated by a judge or wealthy parents who threatened to cut them off from the money supply if they didn’t get help.

The men in that room at the church were around my age, dressed like I did when I was back home and had varying levels of professional success. It wasn’t much of a leap to assume nobody else at my rehab had served on their local City Council. I could have seen most of these intelligent, middle-aged men at the AA meeting sitting to my left or right on the dais.

I had no intention of saying a word that night – still of the belief I didn’t have a problem – but after listening to them, I spoke up toward the end of the meeting, and told them it was my first meeting and it was the first time I strongly considered the fact I had a problem.  While I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the 12 Steps or readings from The Big Book that night, it was an eye-opener because it let me know that my peer group could be affected.

Once transferred to Palm Springs, I attended AA or NA meetings nightly as part of the overall program. One of the things that was nice about the Palm Springs rehab was that we attended a variety of meetings. I enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie of some and stared at the clock like it was seventh period Algebra in others.

One group I discovered late in my stay was mostly older gentlemen. Only I and maybe two or three others from the rehab had the permission to leave the property to attend on our own. I felt a connection to these men that I didn’t in any other group. This was mostly two dozen guys who I could imagine myself being in 30 years.

The other group I enjoyed was actually Cocaine Anonymous. I’ve only seen the drug a few times in my life and have never tried it. I simply went for the journey to a satellite Betty Ford Center campus so I could say I had the experience of going to Betty Ford and a Cocaine Anonymous meeting.

What I saw in this group was devoid of all others: Joy. The place was packed, easily the largest meeting I attended. Unlike AA, which wants attendees to take things very seriously and only talk about alcohol, this group was up for hearing about anything. Their theory was nobody was JUST a cocaine addict. You had to have other things going on. At the beginning of meetings, when traditional opening readings were done, the audience participated as if we were at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, with a call-and-response routine I couldn’t help but laugh at the first time I heard it. The whole thing had an energy that I could appreciate. I went to the meeting three or four weeks in a row because it was uplifting about all addiction, not because I had a cocaine problem.

After more than two months at the facility, I came home to Maine. I visited three or four different AA groups, but I just didn’t feel the connection. Because of my high-profile arrest, I drove at least 20 miles away from my where I was living, hoping I could truly be anonymous. I never felt a connection to any of the people I met or heard stories from. I could have continued to attend meetings, but after being sober for a longer period than I had been since I was 15 years old, I decided to try it on my own.

Thankfully, I was able to get through it. I read the Big Book a few times, but I’m not sure if that was to maintain sobriety or simply reminisce about my transformative experience in the desert.

Part II Coming Soon

Why I’ve Decided to Write a Book

Nobody wants to talk about it, yet it’s affecting half of our families, according to a well-recognized watchdog group.

According to National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography was a problem in their home in a 2010 survey. If that’s not disturbing enough, every second of the day an average of 29,000 are watching pornography on the Internet. They’re part of the 40 million who say they use the Internet for pornography and likely contribute to the 68 million searches for pornographic material every day.

But nobody is ready to talk about it. I know, because I’ve been trying for a while.

Although many self-diagnose, there are believed to be around 200,000 genuine pornography addicts in the United States. Those addicts are often the ones who utilize child pornography. Of those millions of pornographic search engine queries, 116,000 are related to child pornography every day according to government figures. The FBI reports that the amount of underage content on the Internet has grown by 700% in the last 10 years. Criminal investigations opened that lead to arrests are up 2,000% in that time. In 2012 alone, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Cyber Tipline received 400,000 leads about people possessing, making or distributing child pornography.

But nobody is ready to talk about it. I know, because I’ve been trying for a while.

Some law enforcement officials believe for every person caught and prosecuted on child pornography-related charges, there are 20 who are getting away with it. That’s on the low end. Some law enforcement officials believe the ratio is more in the neighborhood of 1-to-100.

But nobody is ready to talk about it, I know, because I was the 1 in those ratios.

My crime

I was arrested in 2014 for possession of child pornography. I was sentenced in early 2016 to eight years, with all but nine months suspended. I ended up serving six month and six days.

I liked a lot of porn. I liked wet T-shirt contests and lesbians. I liked celebrities and cheesy foreign porn movies from the 1970s and ’80s. Whenever I felt bad about my porn usage, I figured I wasn’t hurting anybody and I told myself the wet T-shirt girls didn’t regret being exploited once they sobered up. That faulty thinking was with me for decades.

I think that I’ve been a porn addict since I was a small child. In all of the deep analysis and work I’ve done with professionals since my arrest, there are many red flags from my youth that likely contributed to or exacerbated the problem: A caregiver who was sexually inappropriate when I was very young, a home where talking about sex was forbidden and taboo, the ability at 14 years old to rent porn at a local video store.

My life seemed normal to people on the outside. I had girlfriends, went to school, cultivated a successful professional white-collar career, got married, had a family and ended up running my own company. Almost nobody knew that I utilized pornography, and since it was all legal usage up until 2013, I didn’t see it as a problem either. I knew my alcohol use was an issue, but that’s because we’re inundated about the dangers of alcoholism from a young age. Nobody talked about porn.

In the months leading up to my arrest, I had started to use cam-to-cam sites, recognizing that most of the videos of the young women I liked were recorded from interactions on sites like with names like “Chat Roulette”, probably the most famous of the genre. I quickly learned no female would stop to talk to a man in his mid-30s that looked like me, so within a few days, I had created a looping video of an attractive man in his early 20s. I was so manipulative, but in such a state of disrepair mentally, physically and emotionally that I couldn’t recognize how low I’d sunk.

On March 24, 2014, the Maine State Police arrested me and said they had been following my computer since November 2013. How exactly I got caught was in the evidence discovery packet, but I never looked too closely. It doesn’t really matter.

In the 22 months between my arrest and sentencing, I spent 70 days at an inpatient facility in California for my alcoholism. I also started seeing a therapist who specialized in sexually deviant behavior. Upon my return, I entered into deep therapy and became a voracious reader about sex and pornography addiction. I also spent 50 days at an inpatient facility in Texas for my pornography addiction. These two facilities were the most transformative experiences of my life. Success rates in rehab are not spectacular, but I beat the odds, made a multitude of changes to my life and the judge could see this, hence the heavy suspension of my sentence. I have still not had a drink nor utilized Internet pornography since early 2014.

Telling my story

While in jail the first half of 2016, I wrote a memoir detailing the several years of my life leading up to my arrest. During that time, the magazine company I ran and my relationship with my family slowly imploded because of my addictions and because of the surfacing of issues from my past. I stopped taking medication I’d been on for a dozen years for bipolar disorder and slept only 2-3 hours per night prior to the arrest. Most people couldn’t tell anything was happening to me at the time because like all addicts, I was a great liar and manipulator. As long as you shave, have charisma and act like everything is OK, most people will buy it.

A few months out of jail, I edited the book down to a reasonable length and shared it with both a professional true crime author and a producer of true crime television. While it didn’t have the level of grisly detail they were used to producing, they gave a bunch of notes and said it was worthy of publishing. It was a story neither had seen before.

There are a lot of publishers who like to portray themselves as cutting-edge, ready to cater to the needs of authors who aren’t embraced by the mainstream and want to make a difference in the world. I am embarrassed to admit I was too naive to recognize these kinds of claims as branding and marketing.

Publishers who focus on memoir and biography said it was more suited to true crime. Those who publish true crime said it wasn’t the right kind of crime. Inspirational publishers don’t care about a happy ending in a tale of redemption when you’re not the victim. It wasn’t the quality of writing that slowed down selling the book. I spent many years as an award-winning journalist and those agents or publishers who bothered to read the book said the writing was top notch.

Who wants to be ‘That Publisher’?

Say the words “child pornography” out loud. I was caught with it and even I prefer “illegal pornography” or “underage pornography.” There is something about that phrase that I believe people are afraid to utter for fear the mere words will make others think they are not completely repulsed and revolted by it.

You can say “I read a book about a guy who was into heroin” or “I read a book about a guy who killed his family” and nobody thinks you have any connection to that guy. Say “I read a book about a guy who downloaded child pornography.” I think most people assume they will be seen as an apologist for the guy, because they are seeking to understand and not simply demonize him.

While it is standard for an agent or publisher to simply reject a response, there were a few who I believe took pity knowing I was in a Catch-22 situation before I did.

“The problem,” wrote one co-publisher who went to bat, but couldn’t convince her acquisitions team to take the chance, “is that many people will see you defending your crime and minimizing the victim no matter how many times you say that you want to help make things better. It’s difficult to position a book like this.”

I’ve been told the book: “Hits on key points that are important to our understanding of pornography and child abuse,” “There are good things here, good writing,”  “A powerful story, well written” and many other compliments but nobody came out and said what I think the real problem is: “There’s never been a book like this before and I’m worried what the fallout could be. I don’t want anybody to think I’m defending you.”

Here’s the thing: I’m not defending myself, either. For a short period of my life, I let an addiction get out of control and become heinously criminal. With almost four years of recovery under my belt, I don’t condone my actions. I also think if I would have been exposed to a cautionary tale similar to mine, it may have slowed or stopped my descent.

What’s Next

Fifty years ago, nobody wanted to talk about alcoholism or rehab. Then, Betty Ford did more to help the world than her presidential husband could ever imagine when she admitted her addiction and opened a center in Southern California to help treat it. Twenty-five years ago, it was sexual addiction. I’m in front of a wave that is still beginning to crest.

Statistics prove this isn’t a problem we can ignore until it goes away. How is this not going to continue to escalate until we are forced to face the issue? If 47% of families say porn is a problem in their homes and only 3% didn’t admit it, half of the families in America are exposed to pornography.

Thankfully, in the midst of the rejection letters, there was one publisher who recognized based on his experience publishing a heroin addict’s memoir that most people are cross-addicted and issues of sex are often one of those addictions. The forward-thinking folks at my publishing company recognized there is a lot that can come out of telling my story and by simply hearing the story, it doesn’t turn you into a sexual deviant any more than reading a book about Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer turns you into a serial killer.

My story is one about understanding how I sank to such depths, not war stories recounting females I manipulated. It’s about somebody’s life imploding who was too sick to see it coming. It’s a tale of addiction of a 21st century variety.

But nobody is ready to talk about it. Hopefully, I’ll help change that.

 

 

Am I An Addict?

 

I was like many of the people I met in my in-patient rehab facilities in that I was essentially forced to attend. My lawyer made it clear that it would look good to the judge if I entered a facility on my own and worked on my alcohol addiction.

I was so scared – because of the charges against me – I would have agreed to just about anything, but believed I was doing it only for a resumé the judge could look at approvingly. I thought I would first go to alcohol rehab and do what many call “Fake it ‘til ya make it” which means you pretend you’ve accepted your addiction and are committed to change. Once out, you go back to living the life you had before.

The funny thing was, I dropped my guard after a week or so, mostly at the urging of my therapist back in Maine, and quickly realized I was exactly the alcoholic they were talking about. The litmus tests for being an alcoholic helped me eventually accept I had a pornography addiction and needed tools to cope. While I hadn’t participated in the kind of behavior that got me in trouble since before the arrest, I knew that legal pornography was just as much a problem, if not bigger, than the things that got me in trouble with police. Going to jail for three months or three years was not going to help fix those issues.

You likely passed dozens of alcoholics today and probably know a handful. There may be a few drug addicts in your life since those problems are only getting worse and more public. While gambling and food addicts are rarer, there’s probably somebody you suspect has issues with it. With pornography, though, people go to such lengths to hide their use – even if it is rare and with completely legal material. People who aren’t alcoholics or gamblers, but casually enjoy both don’t go to any lengths to hide it. Nobody is casual about their porn use. It’s always a secret, even with the healthiest people.

I firmly believe there are differences between sex addicts and porn addicts. It may fall under the same category, but aside from chatting with those addicted to risky intercourse, I don’t have experience with it. Some of the stories are harrowing involving multiple partners daily in dangerous situations. I never felt the pull in that direction, thank God.

I’ve seen addiction defined 100 different ways, but if you’re asking yourself if you’re an addict, the answer is that you probably, at the minimum, have a problem. I enjoy casinos and I don’t mind dropping $30 or $40 on slot machines in an evening, but then I leave and this happens less than once a month. I love dessert, but probably have a second piece of cake less than 2% of the time. I’m a few pounds overweight, but that’s because I’ve been sitting in front of a computer the last year writing a book and neglecting exercise. I’ve never asked myself if I have a gambling or food addiction because I know the answer is no.

My test to determine if you’re an addict of anything is simple. Are you engaging in a behavior that you desperately want to stop, but can’t? Have you promised yourself you would stop, but always return? Does this behavior cause you shame and make you feel worse about yourself? Do you feel like you sometimes rationalize what you’re doing to yourself just before or during that behavior, but know you’re telling yourself lies? Do you immediately feel terrible after indulging in the behavior?

Whether it was porn, gambling, food, video games or anything else and we were having a one-on-one conversation and you answered yes to my questions, even one of them, I’d suggest you knew you had a problem and whether or not you wanted to label it an “addiction” is up to you. Addiction is one of those words that stirs up feelings in people. Go ahead and call it a problem. The important thing is you recognize there is an issue.

More important than recognizing there is an issue is deciding you’re going to get help for it. Depending on your addiction, there may be a lot of resources, or next to none. Don’t let that stop you. When I searched for a rehab that could help me with the porn addiction, I found only about 10 in the United States. There are more than 10 places to help with alcoholism within 30 miles of my house. If you really want to start recovering, regardless the addiction, there are resources. Of those 10, several would not take me because of pending legal charges. Some addictions just force you to dig a little deeper.

Are you a porn addict? That’s for you to decide. I wish I could create a little quiz and give you a score, but that would be less accurate than me flipping a coin. Only you can decide if your porn usage has risen to the level that it’s a problem, but if you’ve read this far, that probably says something.

If you’d like further resources from people far more educated than I on the issue, there is a Resource page I urge you to investigate.