How to Get 13-Year-Old Boys to Stop Looking at So Much Porn

Whether during an interview or presentation, I’ve been asked dozens of times how we stop kids from getting hooked on porn. I’ve offered a rehearsed answer that sounded good, but in the back of my mind probably wouldn’t work. I didn’t know the answer. It wasn’t until I went back to being a kid in my mind that the solution became clear.

A Young Porn Addict in the Late ’80s

When I was 13 years old, about 30 years ago, the term “Internet” had not been coined yet, or if it had, it was only known by hardcore computer geeks who were inspired by Matthew Broderick in War Games. The Apple II computer in our house was useful for typing papers for my junior high school projects and playing games that didn’t quite measure up to our Atari.

The computer wasn’t an issue with my porn addiction, because there was no way to get it with a computer at that point.  It had been a few years since my first exposure to explicit pornographic magazines and I took every chance I could to watch late-night HBO if something looked especially “adult”. You could spot those movies when not only did it have an R rating and an N for nudity, but also had SSC for Strong Sexual Content. That was like a beacon for what I wanted and I don’t hesitate to say at 13, I was already a pornography addict.

The world of porn opened up to me that year because for the first time, I was able to get a video rental card at the local independent video store. This was long before Blockbuster wiped everyone else out. You either rented videos at the Mom and Pop places, like this one, or your local supermarket.

I’d been going to this video store with my parents for a couple years and saw the sign that said you had to be 16 to rent videos. One day that year, I wanted to see a WWF wrestling video, so I took it off the new release shelf and brought it over. I said I didn’t have a card to rent videos there. They gave me one without even asking my age. I still remember my member number: 3660.

It didn’t take long before a wrestling video became a PG-13 movie, then R, then a softcore porn video. Then I got brave, and went to the back of the store where they had a small room cordoned off with a couple of saloon-style swinging doors. I actually went underneath so nobody would hear the creaking of the doors opening.

They had binders with pages of cut-out box covers. You’d find a box cover you liked, then find the correspondingly numbered video on a nearby shelf. I picked one out, mixed it in with the other non-porn video or two I was renting and walked to the check-out counter like I owned the place.

“3-6-6-0,” I told the lady standing there. Like one of the Stepford Wives, she mindlessly punched in the number, picked up each video and punched in their corresponding number.

“Due back Wednesday,” she said for the hundredth time that day.

I always wondered if they were actually breaking any laws doing that. The movie theater wouldn’t let me see an R-rated movie under 17, and most convenience stores wouldn’t sell porn to people under 18, but were those in-house rules or were they laws, like the state had over liquor or cigarette purchases?

This was a massive day in my life because it was the first day I had an endless supply of pornography. No more waiting for HBO movies. No more hoping to catch the Playboy Channel unscramble briefly. No more buying magazines. I could have as much porn as my wallet would allow.

Introduction of the Internet

It was another five or six years before the Internet made it into my house. The World Wide Web, “browsing” or “surfing the ‘Net” were still a couple years away from American lexicon. After writing an article about local online Bulletin Board Services for the local newspaper, I decided to take the plunge and buy a modem. They were faster than ever before and everything I read said that we’d all be talking to each other soon enough.

Sure, you could spend two days downloading a video clip, or 20 minutes downloading a single picture, but the Internet of that day was not conducive to porn.

It took a couple of years and getting a few million more people online, but the technology caught up. For whatever reason, pornography and pro wrestling are always on the cutting edge of what’s available. I’m sure there’s a heck of a college thesis in that. If you want to know the latest in technology, just see what the smut peddlers and the fake fighters are doing.

Very early on, it became quickly clear to me that the Internet would replace VHS tapes (or maybe it was DVDs by that point). Five or six years after I first heard the siren’s song of the modem going online, Google arrived, ready to deliver anything my mind could conjure.

I recall having conversations about the sudden influx of unfettered access to pornography into people’s lives. Just 10 years earlier, you had to make the walk-of-shame from the magazine rack or the back room of the video store, and that was if you could pass for being old enough, or in my case, find an establishment that valued the dollar over the moral purity of a 13-year-old boy.

Even then it was clear that I was going to be part of the last generation to have to do any actual work to look at pornography. I had to ride my bike to the video store, about two miles each way, play the whole cat-and-mouse game of trying to act older (though they never denied me) and mixing in a mainstream movie or two. I had to hide the porn from my parents and make sure they wouldn’t catch me watching it.

Even in 1998, it was clear the way people viewed porn would be forever changed and it didn’t take a genius to understand the Clear Browser History button would be a 13-year-old’s best friend. You could look at anything your heart desired and nobody would ever find out.

I couldn’t imagine having been a 13-year-old boy in the age of the Internet.

I wrongly hypothesized that viewing porn was going to become a mundane activity. I saw the danger of getting my hands on porn and the potential of being caught as part of the intrigue. I was wrong. Take away the danger and intrigue and you’ve still got naked people doing naked things. I now know that will always be enough to draw people in.

A Pathetic History of Porn Education

Nobody talked about porn as a bad (or good) thing when I was a kid. Nobody talked about it except far right-wing politicians or religious zealots who always seemed detached from reality. Stories of going blind or hairy palms were ludicrous, yet preached by these groups. It was almost cartoon-like with its idiocy.

There was a blip in the late 80s and early 90s with groups like the Parents Television Council or the Parents Music Resource Council gaining a little bit of ground – that’s back when explicit lyric advisories were placed on CDs and TV shows started being rated. But they also talked about the dangers of violence in video games and Satanic lyrics in music, so again, their zealotry eliminated any actual common sense they occasional brought to the table.

These days, I don’t see porn as being the taboo subject it was when I was growing up, but I also don’t think it’s seen in a negative light nearly like it was. I’m not sure this is a good thing.

I’m guessing these days (where the average kid first sees porn at 11) there is no sense of danger or doing the wrong thing that there was back in my day. There are no more gatekeepers beyond a parent trying to put a filter on a computer – but those are easily skirted by anybody over 9, either in age or IQ. There is an unending supply of porn flowing to children through the Internet on their computers, tablets and telephones.

I don’t think we can stop it. I think it’s a fool’s errand to try. Our government’s war on drugs has proven they don’t have the resources and on a First Amendment basis, as a journalist, I don’t like barring people’s right to freedom of speech or expression. Even if I find it reprehensible, I’ll still defend the right to say it or do it.

I don’t think pornography will ever end. It just evolves. If you look at the history of Penthouse Magazine over the last 20 years, you’ll see most have turned their back on the pornographic magazine industry. Playboy even ran an experiment through much of 2016 with eliminating nudity from the magazine. They went back to it after few people bought the magazine sans skin.

Eventually, in our lifetime, there will be no Playboy or Penthouse magazines. This is no more a victory for anti-porn groups than when early man stopped drawing dirty pictures on the walls of the cave. It’s an evolution, not an extinction.

Let’s Teach the Boys About PIED

These days, there’s a fairly new medical diagnosis affecting young men: Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED). I’ve spoken to several professionals who have explained it to me. Basically, these men can get erections and reach orgasm if they are looking at porn. However, if they are in a real life situation, they simply can’t finish, if they can get erect at all.

If you suffer from PIED, you could have a Victoria’s Secret model as a girlfriend, but unless you’ve got pornography playing in the background, you’re not going to be able to perform to completion. It doesn’t matter how sexy or how crazy she gets.

I may sound insane, but I think this is the way to get to the 12- or 14-year-old boys who are starting to look at porn on a regular basis – aren’t yet addicts – and haven’t started having sex with partners yet, to pay attention.

We can decry porn as immoral, we can cast the actors as victims or we can pretend none of this is happening – those techniques haven’t helped one bit.

One of the only thing these young guys want more than porn is an actual girlfriend. Despite spending a fair amount of time looking at porn, I always wanted a girlfriend more than I wanted a magazine or video. When I was in my mid-to-late teens and finally engaging in sexual behavior, I realized I was right…it was always better than porn. Like most addicts, I didn’t turn to porn as a surrogate for sex as an adult. When it came to crossing the finish line, I always preferred my wife to a video on the computer.

At the same time that we’re teaching kids about the evils of drugs, or teaching them the birds and the bees, it might be a good time to talk about pornography addiction. Understanding the harm of drug addiction is easy. Understanding the potential harm of gambling or food is a little tougher for a young mind, but not a huge leap. Understanding there is any harm in looking at pictures or videos of naked people probably doesn’t register because it doesn’t seem like there are consequences.

While it will likely feel awkward for the educators and everybody is going to laugh when it’s brought up, I think the best defense we have to slowing the ever-growing numbers of porn addicts (1-in-3 men under 30 believes they may be addicted according to 2016 stats) is to teach the cause-and-effect nature of pornography with the effect being PIED.

If you tell a bunch of 13-year-old boys that in the next several years, when they’re finally able to convince real-life girls to engage in sexual behavior with them that they’ll look like a fool because they won’t be able to function normally, I think we may be surprised just how effective that information can be.

We can back it up with plenty of science and there are no shortage of first-person stories out there. Let these 13-year-old boys know that if they watch too much porn they are likely to not be able to have sex and you’ll see a lot of 13-year-old boys take a different approach to porn.

Right now, our warnings are too abstract, too easy to ignore, or simply meritless. Show them that they may be stuck with porn, alone, for the rest of their life and I have a feeling the Clear Browser History button is used less.

I never tried hard drugs because of what they could do to me. People scared me into staying away with the facts. I think we can use the facts and make a dent in these ridiculous numbers of young porn addicts we face today.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – November edition

I noticed I didn’t have trivial thoughts post for October. Maybe that explains why there are so many rolling around in my head today. Without further ado…

So, depending on when you read this Election Day is either a) over, b) today or c) tomorrow. I’ll be really glad when people pick up their signs on their lawn and go back to be secretive about who they support. Whether you like Trump or not, one thing you’ve got to say for him is that he has galvanized both sides of things. A lot of people will call it a divide, and it is, but at least it’s now out there in the open, for good or bad. I just think lawn signs look tacky and don’t affect my vote in the least. And whether your guys win or not, recognize that come Wednesday, it’s same shit, different day. None of this is going to affect you all that much in the long run.

I’m taking my son to an event on Wednesday where I expect to see a lot of people that I haven’t seen for about 20 years. I’m wondering if I should wear a ball cap and a hood, or shave, or do something to try and throw off my appearance. Despite not seeing these people, I’ve got to believe many know what happened to me about 5 years ago and probably have strong feelings against me because of it. I’m hoping that if someone recognizes me, they just ignore me. It would be bad form to confront me, especially in front of my son, yet that’s the big fear. Telling me off isn’t going to change anything. Next time you decide you’re going to give someone a piece of your mind, think about what you actually achieve. It’s little to nothing.

All of the years I was a journalist, I almost never voted in an election. I didn’t want my objectivity to be swayed one way or another. While I often found one (or both) candidates to be narcissistic assholes I wouldn’t want babysitting my kid, I did so by interviewing them and actually looking at their record. These days, I’ve resumed voting – absentee so I don’t have to show my face at the polls – and I leave the races where I don’t know both candidates blank. It seems safer than to just put a check mark next to the R or the D. What if you vote for the wrong person? It’s safer to vote for nobody.

I hate the leaves changing colors. I hate them falling off trees. I hate raking and I hate that it’s all a harbinger of the death season that is winter. Yet I still live in Maine…

A reminder before you vote. It doesn’t really matter who you vote for because progressives always win. I know conservatives don’t like to hear it, but you only have to take one look at this country to recognize that conservatives do little more than put up speed bumps. Whether it’s slavery, abortion, women’s suffrage, gay marriage, or 101 other issues, the progressive side always wins in the end. The most a conservative can really hope for is to be an obstructionist and win a battle or two until they’re dead because history has proven progressives always win the war. And I say this as someone who doesn’t label himself a progressive, but can honestly view how things work.

I had somebody approach me about writing a guest blog for this site. I’m still working with her on the content, but figured that so many people have given me shots at writing over the years, I may as well return the favor. If anybody else out there reading this wants to do a guest column, just let me know and we’ll figure something out.

Final thought: If you’re a diehard Democrat or Republican, your vote actually counts more if you don’t show up to maintain the status quo. In most elections, you’ll find 38% go Democrat and 38% go Republican. It’s the 24% in the middle who actually make the election count. As a hardcore Democrat or Republican, your job is just to cancel out the vote of the guy on the other side of the street with the equally ridiculous signs. Those people like me, who don’t have a sign on their lawn? We’re the ones who really decide things. It’s nice to play for one of the big teams, but there’s a freedom of being a free agent most will never experience. And one final reminder, you don’t have to vote a certain way or belong to a certain party because your daddy did. There’s a 49.999% chance your daddy was below average. Break the cycle. Think for yourself.

Your Alarming Porn Statistics for October

There is terrific article in the new issue of Time online that you should read HERE. It might be in the real magazine, but I’ll never know. They are not pornography statistics per se, but in a roundabout way, I think they very much are.

The article focuses on several studies that have found people are having sex less than ever before. Now, I’m not going to moralize on if you should wait, if you should use a condom, what technically is or isn’t sex or any of that stuff. That’s not what these statistics are about for me.

According to a survey they site:

“…the fraction of people getting it on at least once a week fell from 45% in 2000 to 36% in 2016. One study of the GSS data showed that more than twice as many millennials were sexually inactive in their early 20s than the prior generation was. And the sharpest drop was the most recent, in the years 2014 to 2016.”

They go to further state:

“In 2016, 4% fewer condoms were sold than the year before, and they fell a further 3% in 2017. Teen sex, which is monitored by the Centers for Disease Control… And the fertility rate—the frequency at which babies are added to the population—is at a level not seen since the Great Depression.”

That means more people’s grandparents were getting it on than they are! Finally:

“Nearly 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds reported having no sex at all in 2016, an almost 50% rise over those who were celibate in 2000.”

They do make a passing mention of pornography as a potential cause for this, but I think if anybody looked at the way pornography numbers are going up from academic studies or surveys (or the excellent ones PornHub provides), there is a direct correlation between the drop in these numbers above and porn use numbers, especially in younger people.

Is it good that younger people are either waiting to or not having sex? Most people would say yes. Is it better than them getting lost in a world of porn and addicted to images on a screen? I don’t think so.

 

Why do I have a pornography addiction awareness blog?

I was giving an interview to a podcast yesterday and was giving my standard answer to the “Why did you write this book?” question and it occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever directly answered the question on this blog which is strange, because the two reasons I write this blog are the same two reasons why I wrote the book.

1. To reach my fellow addicts who need to go get help

First, for addicts, or people who engage in pornography use more than they wish, I try to use my experience as a cautionary tale. Statistics suggest that one-out-of-three men between the ages of 18 and 35 believe they use too much pornography, have a problem with it, or are in the throes of a full-blown addiction.

I didn’t recognize I had a pornography addiction until long after I was arrested for inappropriate behavior with a teenager in a chat room. I believe one of the reasons that I never thought about porn addiction was that I never heard anybody talking about it.

Would it have stopped me before I let it get too far? I don’t know, nor will I ever know, but I can at least try to be that voice I never heard.

If you believe that you have a pornography addiction, please begin to get some help. That could mean a 12-step group, rehab, a therapist, online forums, research…whatever. Just don’t sit there are let the addiction fester. Check out the Resources page for more info on multiple ways to get help.

I know there is an addict reading this now who thinks, “I may have an addiction, but it clearly wasn’t as bad as yours.”

That’s probably true, and consider yourself lucky you have yet to reach the critical point that I did. If you think that I had some idea I’d ever reach the place where I was capable of going into a chatroom, look for a woman to talk to and make the mistake of engaging a teenager…well, you’re wrong.

I would have sworn to you probably up to the last two or three months before I made that horrible mistake I was incapable of doing such a thing – and I would have been telling the truth.

The gambling addict never thinks they’ll lose the house, the guy who snorts cocaine never thinks he’ll be putting a needle in his arm, the person who find solace in food never thinks they’ll get to 300 pounds.

If you have a problem – it doesn’t have to be an actual addiction yet – get some help soon. Stop this before it festers into something you can’t control.

2. To remind non-addicts there is no stereotypical addict

If you’re a male under 40 years old and you don’t look at pornography regularly, you are in the minority. If you’re a female under 40 that doesn’t visit a pornographic website at least twice a year, you’re in the minority. 98% of married men and 70% of married women under 35 report having looked at pornography at least once in the last six months. It’s not just people born post-1978 either.

Most people look at porn, but they won’t admit it. I think that they believe that people like themselves don’t look at porn and they are an exception. We need to acknowledge that more people look at porn than ever before, even if they’re not talking about it.

When I was in rehab for porn addiction, in 12-step groups, or in a group therapy setting, one thing always struck me: These are not similar people. I have met doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, people ranging in age from 19 to 78, the rich, poor and everything in between. I’ve met several women and people who can claim to be of just about every race.

Why is it important that we not stereotype who a porn addict may be? When we stereotype, we miss the outliers. If we’re led to believe that every porn addict is a 22-year-old pimply faced kid who lives in his mom’s basement and has never kissed a girl, we’re going to miss all of the others. It’s kind of like how we seemed to all agree that opiod users in the 1980s and early 90s were homeless types who weighed next to nothing and were making bad choices, not actually sick people. Now, almost everyone knows someone struggling with opiods and they don’t fit the morally bankrupt hobo profile.

Your husband, daughter, father, co-worker, clergy member, etc., may not only look at porn, they may have a problem with it. How would you really know?

I was a 37-year-old civic-minded business owner with a wife and two kids when my recovery began. I believe that the reason I had so much negative fallout locally was not only because of the charges against me, but because the community felt duped. Since I didn’t wear the tag of pornography addict on my sleeve, I certainly couldn’t be one, right? Well, they were wrong and I think felt betrayed for it. The reality is, you can’t spot a porn addict. The moment you think you can, you’re stereotyping and potentially missing something important.

 

 

 

When the Sharp Reality of Regret for Your Actions Starts Setting In

For the longest of times, decades really, I lived by the philosophy that it was better to go ahead and live life the way I wanted and to apologize to people if I crossed any lines than it was to ask permission about crossing those lines in the first place.

I don’t know exactly where subscribing to this way of thinking came from. My parents, both elementary school teachers, were not “rock the boat” kind of people. My friends were usually not in line with that philosophy either.

My guess is that it has to do with the manic side of my bipolar disorder. I wasn’t put on medication until my mid-20s, and there were times I pulled myself off of it in the last 15 years, including the year or so leading up to my arrest. I think it could also do with the development of a warped set of survival skills as a small child. I can thank an abusive babysitter for that.

I’ve been struggling a little bit lately with depression. It’s the second time this year I’m dealing with it. Surprisingly, I haven’t had a lot of depression to deal with over the last five years. My therapist believes that I was probably in more of a manic state during the 22 months I was waiting for sentencing, 6 months I was in jail and several months after my release as I began to see how my life played out. She suggests my mind was occupied with anxiety and manic energy, shielding me from the reality of what I was going through.

Now that I’ve made my way to the other side of the legal process, she says my body’s defense mechanisms are probably going back to the way they were before I went off the deep end with the porn and alcohol. I’m back to normal, but normal includes bouts of depression.

When I’ve gone through these cycles of depression in the past, I know they end in one of four ways: I basically sleep it off and let it pass, something extraordinary happens to shock me out of it, I figure out what is at the root of the depression or I up my medication. These cycles typically can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months.

I went the medicinal fix root earlier this year, but would prefer to avoid it this time. I’ve been sleeping a lot extra this last month or so – about 9 hours per day vs. my usual 6 – and it’s showing a few signs of working, and the extraordinary option is out of my hands.

That leaves me with figuring out the root problem, and I think I made a big stride last night as I was lying in bed, fighting off tears of which I couldn’t identify the source.

Then it dawned on me: I have been letting regret smother me and I don’t have the tools to fight it off.

That earlier philosophy I mentioned is the root of my problems. I clung onto it during the worst of my addiction, when business partners were leaving, as I was becoming increasingly estranged from my family and while my world was crumbling. I stopped taking the bipolar meds, hoping to tap into the manic side of things during this time and continued to play by my rules, which included treating women like shit in chat rooms on the computer late at night.

I don’t think most people understand manipulating women to my will on the computer – often ending in them taking off their clothes – had very little to do with sex. Yes, it’s a sex crime, but it was an activity I engaged in to assert power. If I wanted porn, I knew how the internet worked. I wanted to control these women.

I don’t remember if I ever thought it was wrong at the time. My mindset was a mess at the time. I just needed that fix of power and control and I was going to get it anyway possible. If it occurred to me that it was despicable behavior, I certainly didn’t stop. I was going to do what I wanted to manipulate these women and I wasn’t going to ask if it was OK.

Then, the police knocked at my door. It turned out that one of those women I treated so poorly was a teenager. There was no saying sorry to get out of this situation.

Now, nearly five years since I was arrested and six or seven years since I was thinking straight regularly, I’m finally starting to understand the real wreckage I caused. I’m not going to run through a list of damages because frankly, it’s too long, involves too many people and it’s mighty painful.

My actions forever changed the course of my, and my family’s life. Someday, I will have grandchildren who discover what happened. Someday, I will want to move from my home and have to adhere to any residency restrictions a town may have in place for sex offenders. Someday, I may want a loan from a bank, but because I’m a former felon, it will be denied. Someday, I may want to get a job outside of my house and will have to cling to the hope they don’t perform a background check. Someday, I’ll want to travel out of the U.S., but dozens of countries won’t let me in. Someday, I’ll be a frail, elderly man who needs somebody to help him get to the police station four times a year to check-in as part of a restriction for a crime he committed decades earlier.

The philosophy I lived by led me to one place, a locked closet of regret and right now, I don’t have the key.

I’m not asking for pity or to be seen as the victim here. I did horrible things and deserved to pay a price. This is what I have coming to me. I thought that mentally, life would be easier the further I got away from it, but the regret just grows deeper.

Also, I’m not just starting to live with the regret. That started on the day I was arrested. What I’m living with now is the knowledge the regret will never go away.

Regret is knowing you did the wrong thing, knowing there is nothing you can do about it, and living with the fallout. It’s a fallout I’m coming to terms with more and more every day and it’s a painful process.

I lived my life without regret – and it’s the most regrettable thing I’ve done.

 

Q&A Time: Doubts Over Partner’s Intention to Seek Help for Porn Addiction

QUESTION: I finally confronted my husband about his porn addition, and thankfully he didn’t deny everything. He says he wants help, but I think he just wants to stay together. What do I do?

ANSWER: Sorry you’re not one of the lucky ones. There are a percentage of men who, when confronted about their addiction, are suddenly relieved and ready to seek help. The one person who they didn’t want to find out – you – did and now they can do something about it. They want to get healthy and they want to be part of a solid team.

Then there are the guys who say they want to get help, but who simply don’t want to upset the apple cart. “OK, you found out, but I like our life and I’ll quit because I like our life.” These are the men who will attempt to quit, have the best intentions, and may even be successful for a while…but ultimately have no real plan to stop their behavior.

I saw a lot of these men as newcomers at Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings. They’d attend for a month or two and then disappear. I didn’t follow-up with any of them, but I had a feeling that they heard stories much worse than theirs, evaluated their situation and came to the conclusion that their biggest fault was that they got caught.

If he’s not looking to actually work on his problem and he’s just more concerned with maintaining the status quo, you’re going to find yourself exactly where you are right now at some point in the not-too-distant future.

He’s really just gaslighting you. Instead of denying there’s anything wrong, he’s going to admit there’s a problem and talk about how well is taking care of it. Now that his secret is out and confirmed, he can’t try to act like it’s not happening. For appearance’s sake, it makes more sense to him to say he has a problem and say he’s taking care of it.

What most addicts are looking for — and I know I was for years — is the path of least resistance. I can’t count the number of times that I have told people my motto for life was, “Don’t ask permission, just say you’re sorry after the fact.” It was easier for me to shrug and act charming having done the wrong thing than to do the right thing in the first place. If he’s not serious about his recovery, this is probably the head-space your partner is in right now.

He could be gaslighting his therapist, if he’s even showing up for the sessions. He could be just looking at the clock at his Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings, paying no attention to what the others are saying. He could also be sitting in an Arby’s parking lot enjoying curly fries and playing on his phone while you think he’s at the meeting.

This goes back to the fact that you may need to create boundaries, issue ultimatums and enforce penalties for not respecting your requests or ignoring your non-negotiables.

If your partner shows no interest in truly getting better, you may have to be the conduit for change.

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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.

The Sad Reality of Addiction and No Hope

This is much longer than most of what I write, but I think it illustrates the all-or-nothing mindset to life most addicts have. The only alteration to reality is that I changed people’s names.

Aside from the rotund early-20s-something Brackett, I was the longest tenured primary patient at Spencer Recovery Center’s Palm Springs location, with 52 days behind me to that point. I was running the morning meeting and it seemed like Sam, the program director and Allison, the office manager, both leaned on me when they needed help. Sam asked me if I wanted to be an intern just as I was coming out of the morning meeting.

It meant I didn’t have to attend one of the three group sessions every day and there was more leeway when visitors came, but I had to make sure the primaries — what we called the patients who had been there less than 28 days — were behaving for an eight-hour shift, six days per week. I didn’t understand what the upside was and he said, “You’ll be helping out.” I asked if it reduced my costs at all and he said no. He said the fact I was in my mid-30s made me accessible to both the younger patients and the older. I told him that if he needed me to do anything, I’d be happy to help, but I didn’t want to be an official intern until the 60-day mark, when it was mandatory. I was very comfortable and saw no reason to take on anything extra.

The van from Laguna Beach, where the detox and main Spencer facility was, would show up twice a week, dropping a few people off who were deemed to have the demeanor for Palm Springs. I was lucky in that I only spent my first 8 days in Laguna Beach.

The calmness of Palm Springs did catch up to many people. Laguna Beach was a den of drama where drugs and sex were rampant. Palm Springs was not. I don’t think anybody was having sex and it seemed like any time someone did drugs, they were found out quickly. We would max out at 30 patients in Palm Springs where Laguna Beach had about 50. It was much healthier for my recovery from alcoholism.

I made an effort to get to know everyone’s name, but I’d guess I only became close friends with one out of every six or seven people. You could spot from a mile away who was going to get kicked out or simply walk out the door, and with those people, I never got too close.

We had our fair share of “hot messes” as Brackett would call them, meaning girls between the ages of 18 and 21 who seemed like on the outside that they were from lower-socioeconomic homes, yet had a sense of entitlement that the world owed them something. They were clearly promiscuous, with many having their first kid around 16 and some with two and even three kids. They were often loud, enjoyed swearing at the top of their lungs and among the most rattled by the calmness displayed by those of us who lasted more than a week in Palm Springs.

While I didn’t make friends with the “hot messes” it bothered me when they would get kicked out. Usually it was for drinking, which I couldn’t understand because I know it wasn’t about satiating their addiction. It was about looking cool. How much fun could it be to get hammered at rehab? What are you going to do? Get tipsy and watch Family Guy? Either these girls had the worst judgment (something that was hard to argue against) or they just needed to be rebellious, which seemed to be the real answer. When they would get kicked out, they would usually be given anywhere from two-to-six hours additional on the Palm Springs property to figure something out. Those who lived in California were usually able to get a friend or family member to pick them up. Those who were from other parts of the country could usually get family members to wire them money to get home. Sometimes though, their first, second and third plans fell through and despite being young girls who constantly postured that they were “bad bitches” in control of their lives, they broke down crying, not knowing what they were going to do because they were hours away from homelessness if a plan didn’t come together.

My daughter was turning 14 in a couple of months and while to the best of my knowledge she had never touched drugs or alcohol, nor could I ever see her engaging in the kind of stupid behavior most high school teens did, you never know what’s going to happen and the idea of her ending up in a rehab facility in a few years really scared me and broke my heart. Despite the fact these hot messes were not people I socialized with, when they dropped their “bad bitch” acts, they were young, frightened girls and I’d seen my daughter frightened before.

One of the girls I rarely talked to, among everyone’s least favorite, was a 19-year-old called Tawny. She’d been caught drinking for a second time, freaked about it when confronted during our morning group and was kicked out. Told she had only a few hours to leave, she joined us in the van to go to the Friday night AA meeting at City Hall in the City Council chambers. She thought her sponsor would be there and could help her plan what to do next.

The first half of the meeting was typical AA business and mantras. At the 30-minute mark, they would take a short break. The last 30-to-45 minutes was a speaker, who would talk about how AA saved them. I would sit there week after week and think it was some kind of karma that I had to sit in the room where the City Council did its work whereas back home, it was being a City Councilor that contributed to my demise. At least Sonny Bono was never the mayor of my town.

Devising a plan

At the break, I was sitting on a bench about 20 yards from the front door, smoking a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but there was nothing to do in rehab so I took up for the habit for three months. Tawny came over and asked me if I had another, so I gave her one. Never be the asshole who won’t hand out cigarettes in rehab. Nobody likes that person, and they’ll tell you so.

She was a pretty girl, but you could tell the last several years had not been kind to her. When she did her hair and makeup, she was presentable, but without, she looked somewhat haggard. Of all the girls at Spencer, she also seemed to gain weight the fastest. She had to put on at least 20 pounds in the three weeks she’d been there, but it didn’t stop her from wearing the same bikini, which couldn’t hide her growing butt and stomach. She should have been tossed multiple times, but throwing a full bowl of cereal during a process group at Sam when he briefly checked in to ask her about the bottles he found was the last straw. She was given until 9 p.m. to get off the property.

She was told she’d have to be off the Spencer property 30 minutes after we returned from the AA meeting she was hoping to find the absent sponsor at. I knew she lived in California, but didn’t know her plan and wasn’t going to ask.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. My sponsor isn’t here and isn’t answering my calls,” she said matter-of-factly sitting down next to me. I felt bad, but she didn’t seem to care. She had been caught drinking the first time about a week earlier. They put her on a “behavior contract” which stated she had to follow all the rules. She stopped attending some of the group sessions three days before she finally got kicked out and when she did attend, she often brought food against the rules or was a distraction. It was certainly not a surprise to anyone when she was told to leave.

“At 9 p.m. you’re on the street, I heard.” I said.

“I know.”

“Well, what have you tried to do?”

“I tried calling my Mom. She lives in Long Beach, but she doesn’t want to talk to me. Neither does my grandma in Manhattan Beach.”

“Everybody in your family live at beaches?”

“Pretty much,” she said.

“What about friends?” I asked.

“None of them are going to drive 100 miles to Palm Springs,” she said.

“You do realize there aren’t many homeless shelters in Palm Springs, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I heard Sam say that in a meeting the other day,” said Tawny.

“So what are you going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, this time more seriously. We stopped talking and smoked our cigarettes. A few minutes later, a bell rung letting people know they needed to return to the auditorium.

“Ready to head in?” I asked, but noticed she had turned away and had tears coming down her face.

“What am I going to do?” she said through tears and threw her arms around my midsection for what others saw as a hug, but what I could tell was more clinging to hope. I put my arms around her and she started bawling into my chest.

“You’re strong. You’re going to be OK,” I said. “Keep crying, it’s OK. We don’t have to go in.”

She cried for another two or three minutes then pulled herself together and sat up.

“Sorry I got your shirt all wet,” she said, wiping the snot from her upper lip.

“We’re in the desert, it’ll dry in five minutes,” I said and she laughed. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to come up with multiple plans and we’ll figure out the best to the worst, OK?”

She nodded and looked incredibly vulnerable, like a little girl. “OK,” she said sheepishly.

“Do you know anybody around here?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

“And you have no family, no friends who are willing to come pick you up…none?”

“I don’t think so. I called everyone on my phone that made sense,” said Tawny.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want to call someone who is just going to get me fucked up. I want to stay clean,” she said.

“That’s commendable,” I said.

“And I don’t want to go back to being a prostitute,” she said.

“You were a prostitute?”

“Yeah, for a year. It was the only way I could pay for a place for me and my son. I couldn’t stay with anyone else so I did what I had to,” she said, sniffling and still trying to pull herself together. “If I could get to Laguna Beach, I have some friends there.”

“I’m not judging. We do what we have to,” I said, realizing I now knew a teenage prostitute. I was becoming more like a character from a Lifetime movie every day at rehab. “Would anybody at Spencer be willing to sneak you back into their room late at night?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. There were only a handful of girls at Spencer and I didn’t think any were close with Tawny. There were a couple of scuzzy younger guys who might, but the odds of them not getting caught were non-existent and she knew they’d expect something in return.

I checked my phone (yeah, it was one of the rare rehabs that let us have our cell phones. We can debate the merit of it another time) and found Mickey’s number. He lived in the desert nearby with his girlfriend and had left Spencer before Tawny arrived, which was probably to her advantage. He didn’t know what a pain in the ass she could be.

“I’m going to call my friend Mickey. He was at Spencer before you got there. He’s probably about 30. He and his girlfriend Sharon are pretty cool. They’re clean and they did like 90 days each here. I’ll see if you can stay with them one night, but tomorrow you have to figure something else out,” I said.

“I can probably get a friend to come tomorrow,” she said.

“OK, and if they say no, we’ll ask Tom if you can sleep in his truck tonight. If he says no, when we get back, I’ll say I forgot something in the van that brings us here and I’ll leave it unlocked and you can sleep in there.” I said.

Tom was a patient my age who I bonded with quickly. He was a member of the Hell’s Angels who drove himself to the facility, so his truck was sitting in the parking lot. While I know he enjoyed the party lifestyle, I also had a suspicion he was hanging out in rehab because it was a safe place to hide from the police.

“Thank you, Josh. I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you,” Tawny said.

“You were never a bitch to me of if you were, I just ignored it. Promise me that you won’t be so defiant in the future. You would have a bed there tonight, your bed, if you didn’t break the rules,” I said.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

I called Mickey and explained the situation, trying to play up the fact she was a scared, young girl and playing down the mouthy teenager I saw far more often. He asked Sharon if it would be OK and they both agreed to take her for a night. Mickey said they were renting a house near Joshua Tree National Park, so it would take him about 40 minutes to get to Spencer. Since we weren’t going to be back for a half hour, it was good timing.

Tawny gave me a hug and again apologized for everything. I didn’t tell her that I liked problem solving, especially other people’s problems, far more than I enjoyed listening to someone talk about how AA saved them. We sat on the bench for another 20 minutes waiting for the meeting to finish. We talked about her son, my daughter and what she pictured her future looking like. She wanted to eventually get to Hollywood to do hair and makeup for movies and TV shows. She said she’d taken half the cosmetology courses she needed to get her license. Her grandmother, who had custody of her son, said once she finished that schooling, she could live with them. I tried to tell her what great choices those were and how she should strive for that dream. I told her to imagine 10 years from now, when she’d be making good money and having a son who was proud of her. It seemed to perk her up.

When we returned, Tom and I helped Tawny take her bags out to the parking lot area. He was given access to his truck after 30 days and mentioned he had to go to Laguna Beach to sign paperwork at that facility and he could give her a ride there the next day.

“See, everything does work out,” I said.

Tom and I waited a few minutes with her before Mickey and Sharon showed up. I thanked both of them and they said they were just going to watch videos that night and Tawny seemed very grateful. I hoped she could pull the gracious houseguest act for at least a night. Tom said he’d pick her up very early at Mickey’s house, like 6:30 a.m. and take her to Laguna Beach. Tawny once again thanked me, gave several people seeing her off hugs and left with Mickey and Sharon. I felt good that I came to her rescue, even if only for a night.

Happily never after

I got a call from Tom shortly before the 10:30 a.m. group meeting the next morning.

“So, we’re on the way to Laguna and she asks me to stop at 7-11 so she can get coffee. Instead of coffee, she comes out with a handle of vodka. Before she even gets back into the car, she’s drank half of it. I told her she couldn’t drink when I was driving, so she drank another half of what was left. I have brothers in the Angels who are drunks that can’t drink in an hour what she drank in three minutes,” he said.

“Where were you?”

“We hadn’t even got out of Joshua Tree yet!” he said. “Then, we start to go and she starts begging me to take her to that hotel down the street in Palm Springs so she can get dope. And I asked her what money she had and she said she could just blow a guy to get what she needed.”

“Jesus Christ,” I muttered into my cell phone.

“I told her we didn’t have time and about three minutes later, she’s asleep. She wakes up like after 40 minutes and sticks her head out the window and pukes all over the side of my truck. So we had to get off the highway and wash the side of the truck at a car wash. She pukes like two more times while we’re there and then said she’d be OK,” said Tom.

“Did she get fucked up at Mickey and Sharon’s house?” I asked.

“No, Mickey said she was great. They watched a movie and she fell asleep halfway through.”

“So what happened then?”

“Once she was done puking, we got back in the truck and kept going. She’s on her phone the whole time and like five friends of hers all said she couldn’t stay with them. I don’t know what the fuck she’s done to her friends but she doesn’t have any fucking friends. Once she tried that, she called a guy and told him if he gave her a place to stay, she’d work for him again.”

“As a hooker?”

“Yeah. She said she fucked guys for anywhere from $50 to $200 and if she was lucky, she’d get half the money,” Tom said.

“So she’s going back to being a prostitute?”

“I dropped her off in front of what looked like a crack house in Laguna Hills,” he said.

“There are crack houses in Laguna Hills?” I asked.

“There are crack houses everywhere,” Tom said.

“That’s disappointing,” I said.

Her time at Spencer meant nothing. She was drunk again and planning on selling her body, something she had told me less than 24 hours earlier she didn’t want to do. The optimist in me said that it was the booze talking and once it wore off she’d come to her senses, but the realist in me knew it wasn’t true and her bad upbringing and addiction had not been conquered, and probably hadn’t even been affected by her time at Spencer.

“You can only save yourself,” Tom said. “Anyway, I’ll be back this afternoon. Talk to you later. Bye.”

“Bye,” I said and hung up. Tawny was on my mind for a few minutes, but my daughter was the one really on my mind. I know Tawny’s parents were not helpful, but I didn’t know if that mattered. Most of the people who were young at Spencer had parents visit who seemed like great people. How do decent parents, like I’d like to believe my wife and I are, keep our children from using? Whoever figures out a foolproof plan could make a lot of money.

I walked into the office before the meeting and told Sam I was ready to be an intern.