Your Path to Addiction Recovery Doesn’t Need to be Everyone Else’s

I don’t know if it has to do with the general political divisiveness that has been growing in America over the last two decades or just a natural tendency to need to be proven correct, but I really hope this trend I’m seeing of “The only path to successful recovery is the one that I took” rhetoric doesn’t continue. It’s not going to help anybody.

I’m two months away from being able to say I’m alcohol and porn free for four years. By all accounts, I’ve had a successful recovery.

I don’t want addicts – and I don’t really think the substance or behavior matters for this discussion – to get clean the way I did. It involves police, jail, shaming in the media, embarrassing my family, spending tens of thousands of dollars, etc. I’m so grateful my recovery has taken root and I have a new, healthier life I never could have imagined, but one of the big reasons I wrote my book is so other people could learn from my story and figure out a different way.

The 12-Steps

I met some of the coolest people in my life at 12-step meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. The Tuesday Night men’s meeting at a small church I attended while I was staying in Palm Springs, California, probably did as much to make me feel like I could conquer this thing as anything else has. I am grateful I found it. These men found a program, and fellowship, that works for them. Nobody is castigated if they stumble and the dogma plays a back seat to the peer support.

On the flip side, I met some of the most closeminded people who walk this earth at 12-step meetings as well. I’ve seen people get yelled at for whispering something to the person next to them. I’ve seen people who fell off the wagon and stumbled into a meeting to sober up tossed out and I’ve heard people say the words “You are going to fail” to another in recovery because they are not hardcore in following the 12-step doctrine.

There are certain familiar passages in the AA Big Book that bother me a little bit, like the message, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program…”

Some in 12-step rooms take that to mean their program is the only way. It may have been the only way for them, but taking a look at the real world shows there are other paths.

The Religion Road

I rediscovered, or better yet, finally defined my spirituality in the recovery process. My self-labeling as an atheist was more about running from the church my parents raised me in than it was about turning my back on a higher power. They forced me to worship a concept I couldn’t get on board with called “God” so I just started believing in the power of “The Universe.”

As my buddy Kevin, who gave me the wake-up call to this fact just before SAA one day said, “Isn’t this really just a matter of semantics?”

In running over the events of my life, I recognized that I’m one of the most faith-filled people who exists. When you’re able to push things to the edge and take calculated risks – both good and bad – and believe you’re going to always end up OK because something is watching out for you…that’s faith.

I know that my faith and my belief in God (and I’m cool calling it God again) is different than other people. My God is a balancing force of energy in the universe that comes from a place of love. In other words, my God makes sure what is supposed to happen, does. When our free will goes awry, God puts its finger on the scale to even things out.

That concept is present in one form or another in most religions and I’m cool with however people want to interpret their spiritual beliefs. I have no problem with them being different than mine. Most people’s preferences toward music, interior design and politics are different than mine, so why shouldn’t their spirituality be? I actually think it’s our differences that make us stronger as a society than our commonalities.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who practice a religion, or have developed beliefs that shun other points of view. If you’re not on board with them, you’re going down the wrong path. I can even tolerate that narrow view, but what makes my heart ache is when their belief system is passive aggressively used to demean other people’s experiences and situations, especially with recovery.

I’m seeing this with a segment of the religious recovery community and it’s making me a little concerned. There is a TON of “religion = recovery” material out there. Some days it feels harder to find secular recovery stories and support than spiritual-based.

That’s OK, because I know many people lean on their religion for support in their recovery and it’s OK if somebody is particularly rigid with their religious doctrine. My fear becomes when their doctrine, often in the realm of “This is the only way to be” is transferred over to “This is the only way to recover.” I have actually seen some who have gone as far as to say without their specific religious doctrine, recovery is impossible.

What’s really important

That person, much like the militant one in the 12-step group, is confusing their recovery with everybody’s recovery. And I don’t mean to cast shade on 12-step groups or religion. There are people who have tried neither who also believe whatever method their recovery took is the only successful one that exists.

Recovery shouldn’t be looked at through those eyes. If one person got sober because of a 24/7 plant diet, yoga three times a day and reading nothing but nature poetry, fantastic. If another person got sober attending three 12-step meetings and a church service every day and only reads The Bible, fantastic.

Statistically, most people don’t get recovery right the first time. They also try a variety of methods. Take smoking cigarettes… you can chew gum, get the patch, try hypnosis, go cold turkey, move to vaping, use medicine, attempt to wean, listen to motivational tapes, and so on. The reason that there are so many ways to quit smoking is because they don’t all work for the same person.

I worry about the person who tries the 12-step meeting or follows the religious doctrine and fails at recovery. I’m not talking about falling down once and trying again. I’m talking about that method of recovery just not being the right fit. What happens when they are told – and believe – that their only way to recover doesn’t work for them? Why stop being an addict at that point?

Isn’t it better, and more important to that person’s survival, for them to try another method of recovery? Or is it that their failure with that method confirms what a fragile thing recovery actually is? Does it show that you were lucky – not guaranteed – to get it right with what worked for you? Is it confirmation that YOUR WAY is not THE WAY…it’s just ANOTHER WAY?

It’s fantastic that your way worked. My way worked, too. We’re both lucky, but what we need to do is encourage others to continue in recovery. Picking a different route to recovery does not mean they are wrong. It doesn’t mean there isn’t value in your experiences and opinions. It just means that there is space in this world to reach the same place in many different ways, and nobody should be discouraged from finding THEIR WAY.

I Think Somebody Close to Me is Addicted to Pornography… What Now?

One of the interesting things that has come out of promoting my book is finding out what people have the most questions about when it comes to pornography addiction in general. Aside from what the signs of porn addiction are, which you can read about HERE, the number one question I get is “What should I do if I think a friend or family member is addicted?”

There are a lot of ways to answer this. I can go brutally honest or optimistically hopeful. I can go hardcore treatment based or I can go more holistic. I’m not a doctor and have no certificates on my wall, so I feel a little under-qualified to suggest anything, but what I can do is flip the question to one I have more expertise: “What could people have done to help me?” This is also one of the biggest questions I get in interviews.

At The Critical Stage

In the last six-to-eight months of my addiction, prior to being arrested for encouraging a teenager to perform a sex act on a webcam, I had reached a critical point and I don’t think anything short of death or a massive non-traditional, life-shaking disruption was going to save me. Thankfully, the latter came at the hands of the Maine State Police.

Odds are, you’re not dealing with somebody who is healthy in many aspects of their life, as I was not. My drinking was at an all-time high, I was sleeping less than four hours most nights and I had abandoned the medicine I take to help control my bipolar disorder.

Most of my poor decision making at the end was as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by my professional endeavors collapsing. Despite my world collapsing on the day I was arrested, when I was contacted by one of my company’s co-owners (I only owned about a quarter but ran day-to-day operations) and told I was fired, it felt like a weight off my shoulders. I wonder if I would have had the same outcome had I left the company a year earlier.

If you think you’ve got somebody who is at the critical stage, where lives are going to be altered if they continue on the path they are, I would urge you to speak to other people close to the addict. Find out if they support your theory that they are in the end-stages before something horrible happens. If so, seek out professional help to learn what role you can, or should, play. Odds are, the addict is not at a place they are going to be receptive.

Just simply be there for them. Encourage and arrange healthier activities away from porn without preaching. Let them know that you are there for them. If, and when, they either seek help or hit rock bottom, they’re going to need someone there. Assure them you’re always there for them.

When I crashed, I knew who was there for me because they’d always made it known. That was probably the biggest thing that has kept me going during recovery.

In The Ongoing Stages

If you’re using heroin or meth, there’s not much of a question if you have a problem. But for something like porn, you’re not causing the kind of obvious physical havoc on your body that occurs with drugs, alcohol or eating disorders. It’s more like gambling or video game addiction. It doesn’t rot your teeth, cause you to lose (or gain) a ton of weight and is fairly easy to hide, but the addiction process is still rotting the mind.

I’m not going to get into it because it’s not that dramatic, but I had a couple of close calls with both myself and others when it came to reckless behavior between the ages of 15 and 25. Witnessing or participating in close calls largely scared me straight. I stopped driving recklessly, putting chemicals into my body and made a few other behavioral and lifestyle changes because I saw what happened. I experienced consequences.

When I nursed my porn addiction over two decades, there was never consequences aside from a stray girlfriend here or there upset that I had a Playboy magazine. In this world of “Clear Browser History” it’s not hard to hide how much porn is consumed.

During this stage, when I didn’t know I had a problem because I didn’t know porn addiction was a thing, I think that some kind of a scare, or at least the recognition of consequences would have gone a long way.

I wrote my book for the person who was like me during the ongoing phase. It’s not preachy, it’s not full of statistics. It’s designed to be a story like any other and you can draw from it what you need when it comes to your situation. Just knowing that there were other white collar, up-and-coming professionals like me who struggled with watching too much porn…and that they suffered grave consequences from their actions may have had some effect on me.

I think in this phase, there is the possibility of having an honest discussion about pornography and its use. I wouldn’t point fingers, accuse anybody of being an addict or suggest they get professional help early in that conversation, though. This is just a chance to plant seeds of knowledge.

Recovery is largely about acceptance on the addict’s part. Acceptance they have an addiction, acceptance there is pain that needs to be addressed behind that addiction and acceptance that they need to seek help to deal with both the addiction and the pain (and at this point, that may be the exact same treatment strategy). You can’t accept any of it for them, but you can create an environment of support where they know they have someone in their corner while they (hopefully) accept those things.

In the early stages

Odds are, if your friend or family member is in the early stages of pornography addiction, you have no idea. You can look for little signs, but are you really going to be hyper-vigilant with everyone you know? It’s like trying to figure out when someone who drinks is developing a problem. Once it’s a problem, you can identify it, but it’s hard to get there until there are signs.

I’m going to address this in a future blog, but I believe that the only thing we can do as a society is try to have people avoid the early stages by trying to understand the overall problem of pornography addiction. It needs to be part of every parent’s “don’t do this stuff” speech and should be addressed in health classes in schools.

There’s a reason I called my book “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About”. I’ll be talking more about the role I think we need to play with our youth in the near future, but suffice to say, it begins with talking about the problem. I never knew pornography addiction could be a problem. Might just knowing at 12 years old have made a difference?

Statistics on & The Definition of Pornography Addiction I Often Cite

One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of in my interviews lately is throwing statistics around because I believe the data shows we’re going to have a national, if not international epidemic on our hands in the next generation. I wanted to share with everybody some of the statistics that has made me reach this conclusion.

I’m not including them here for now, but the world’s most popular pornography site, Pornhub.com does an amazing job releasing its statistics of use on an annual basis. It feels weird to compliment a site that likely contributes to millions of people becoming porn addicts, but as far as their statistics go, they are meticulous and thorough, and I’ll be putting something together on the kind of information they provide in the near future.

As for now, here are some of the facts I’ve been throwing around and where I got the information.

Just How Many People View Pornography or May Be Addicts?

  • Eight in ten (79%) men between the ages of 18 and 30 view pornography monthly
  • Two-thirds (67%) of men between the ages of 31 and 49 view pornography monthly
  • One-third (33%) of men between the ages of 18 and 30 either think that they are addicted or are unsure if they are addicted to pornography
  • Combined, 18% of all men either think that they are addicted or are unsure if they are addicted to pornography, which equates to 21 million men. [i]
  • 42.7% of all internet users view pornography[ii]
  • More than 80% of women who have porn addiction take it offline. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs[iii]
  • According to National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families, 2010, 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home[iv]
  • The number of U.S. employees reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 30th, 2012 was 132 million. If we divide this to represent 28% of employees using a work computer to visit pornographic sites up to 37 million employees viewing pornography.[v]

So what is “Sex Addiction” according to the experts?

Pornography addiction, much like sex addiction, is still not classified as official diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the DSM.

Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Definition of Sex Addiction:[vi]

  • Sexual preoccupation to the point of obsession
  • Loss of control over urges, fantasies, and behaviors (typically evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back)
  • Negative life consequences related to compulsive sexual behaviors, such as ruined relationships, trouble at work or school, loss of interest in nonsexual activities, financial problems, loss of community standing, shame, depression, anxiety, legal issues, and more

Statistics That Show More Professional and Peer Help is Needed

There were 900 certified sex addiction therapists in the US in 2010. The number was at 2500 in 2017. [vii]

There are over 92,000 drug and alcohol counselors in the US in 2017. [viii]

There are 1,500 meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous happening in the US every week.[ix]

There are 62,671 AA groups in the US, many of which meet more than one time per week.[x]

 

Sources

[i] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/elwood-d-watson/pornography-addiction-amo_b_5963460.html

[ii] http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics.html

[iii] Today’s Christian Woman, September/October 2003

[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_pornography_statistics#cite_note-Internet_Usage_bsecure-4

[v]  The Nielsen Company, 2010 via https://www.webroot.com/us/en/home/resources/tips/digital-family-life/internet-pornography-by-the-numbers

[vi] https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2016/07/%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8%E2%80%A8can-therapists-officially-diagnose-sexual-addiction/

[vii] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sexual-addiction-treatment-clinics-often-take-advantage/

[viii] https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211011.htm

[ix] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sexual-addiction-treatment-clinics-often-take-advantage/

[x] https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-53_en.pdf

Is Porn Addiction a “Real” Addiction? Duh.

Since I’ve started doing media for my book, I’ve been faced with the same question a few times: “What do you say to people who claim sex and/or porn addiction is not an addiction?” So, just to clear things up…porn addiction is an addiction. I promise. You don’t need to learn for yourself.

I have a couple of schools of thought on this question and its answer. First, is the part of it being an addiction. In all truth, I have no idea if it meets the standards of the mental health powers in the world. I believe I heard recently that despite a big debate, sexual addiction was not included in the latest DSM (it’s the like the Bible of the psychiatric ward in describing, diagnosing and treating mental health conditions) and is still considered an impulse disorder.

When I went to rehab for porn addiction, they had to diagnose me with an impulse disorder to get insurance to cover part of my stay. Despite the fact the vast majority of therapists and counselors I’ve talk to believe sex/porn addiction is a thing, people who suffer and can only get help if their insurance aids them will still be unable. That’s just a shame.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, to me, an addiction is a pattern of repeated behavior that has negative consequences on one’s health and life that despite great pain, shame and despair cannot be stopped by willpower alone.

My introduction to porn and the feelings it gave me were similar to that of my introduction to alcohol. I felt a sense of excitement and danger, since I knew I could get in trouble for utilizing either. It felt like I discovered something special and could use to help me through life. My ongoing use patterns were similar when it came to anxiety reducing and self-soothing and when it got to a critical point, I was making dangerous decisions with both vices. If my alcoholism is an addiction, I don’t understand how my porn use isn’t because they largely served the same purpose and caused the same internal reactions in my body.

 

Porn addiction can be bad for business

When somebody suggests that pornography addiction is not a “real” addiction, take a step back and view their situation and how pornography addiction becoming a thing could hurt their narrative.

I did a quick plug for my book on a podcast that boasts it’s about healthy sexuality. It’s just really about celebrating one’s sexuality and taking shame away from the subject. I agree with that and think it’s good. Whatever two consenting adults want to do is fine with me, even if that’s looking at porn….although I don’t advise it.

If sex and porn addiction are real conditions, then suddenly this host now has to tip-toe around these negative consequences of what may start from completely healthy behavior. Suddenly, it’s like a craft brew beer show having to deal with the pink elephant in the room of alcoholism.

I’m on a mailing list for people who may be good “professional” guests for radio shows or to provide comments for journalists’ articles. I got one this morning that said:

Statistics suggest our porn tastes are getting less kinky. According to this xHamster trend report, interest in some of the kinkier stuff is dissipating. There’s been a real cultural shaming around porn this past year with legislatures across the country declaring porn a public health crisis. This has been echoed by conservative groups and religious groups. I’m looking for sex experts to weigh in on this topic. If you have insights to share, please send them my way.

A year ago, I would have written to the reporter who submitted this query and tried to chew them out, but my initial rage is now tempered with an understanding of why the reality of porn addiction would scare someone…especially someone writing for a website or magazine called “Kinkly” where this request came from.

I’m probably more liberal than 90% of you reading this. I’m neither conservative and while I have a spiritual side, I’m not at all religious. Has there been a real cultural “shaming” or has there been a real cultural awareness? Is attaching the labels of “conservative” and “religious” supposed to turn all progressive liberals away from the truth? Porn tastes getting less kinky could be good news in addiction circles. Since the use of bizarre, non-mainstream and illegal pornography often arises in the critical phase of addiction, less people requesting this stuff could suggest that the skyrocketing numbers of people self-reporting porn addiction could be leveling. That’s a good thing, unless you’re making money off of it.

Any curtailing of pornography, even if it is an overall positive for public health is never going to be seen as a positive for a company producing a product called Kinkly. By their very name, less kink is bad for business.

I doubt that the podcaster who interviewed me or that Kinkly journalist wants anybody to have an addiction, but I think that they are looking at this through the eyes of their bank account. A narrative where porn addiction is a real thing does not help their bottom line so it’s better to argue against it. There’s good money to be made in enabling addiction. Socially, the problem with that stance is that it encourages people who may need help to believe their behavior is not outside the norm and that it is healthy. By telling people who may have a problem that they don’t, they’re doing far more harm than good.

 

A final perspective

Finally, I reach my bottom line with this…who cares what it’s labeled? I know it’s important for insurance companies and people who need to put others into little boxes, but it is just a label. If a person goes to two psychologists and one diagnoses the person with addiction and the other professional doesn’t…does the person have an addiction? It actually doesn’t matter what those two psychologists said. That person is leaving the office in the same condition that they arrived, addict or not.

Call it a compulsion. Call it an obsession. It’s a habit. It’s an addiction. These are all just labels that don’t change the fact that I have a problem. What does splitting hairs actually do except waste time on a debate where the answer isn’t important?

When that podcast host gave her dissertation about porn addiction not being real, she then asked what I thought. I told her that it didn’t matter to me what she called it. I’m the same person after she finished her thought as when she started it. I told her to walk a mile in my shoes and tell me it’s not an addiction. And I told her that I didn’t actually care what her stance was on the concept of the addiction because I live with it and it was all the proof I need to know that pornography addiction is an actual addiction.

She ended the interview at that point.

 

I Can NEVER Forget Alcohol Was Just as Big a Part of The Problem

When I was a young teenager, crafting intricate plots in my head to get my hands onto pornography, I didn’t think a lot about drinking. My schemes – really just variations on “bring it up to the counter and pay for it” – never extended as far as alcohol, yet it played just as big a role in my eventual downfall.

I mentioned in my book that the first time I saw legit pornography, I knew I had discovered something special. The reaction to alcohol was almost exactly the same. It wasn’t until I went to rehab that I was able to realize my drinking was never of a recreational, “normal” manner.

While I had taken a sip here or there, the first time I was able to enjoy any real volume was at a cousin’s wedding. They way overestimated the head count, leaving plenty of empty seats at the reception…seats that had plastic glasses of champagne ready to go.

I was about 14 and I don’t remember how much I had to drink that night, but it was the first time I ever felt tipsy…and it felt good. I had that clichéd sense that I was funnier, smarter and an all-around better person with the liquor in me. It also had that sense of danger I craved and often felt when I looked at porn, too.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I drank with any regularity. During my junior year of high school, I was able to land a radio show at Bates College, which quickly gained a lot of notoriety. I had plenty of college students and guests on the show who would bring me beer whenever I wanted. I also learned about the one place in town that would always sell it to me.

By my senior year of high school, I was drinking weekly, but it was never in an environment with kids my own age. It was either at the college or with adults I worked with at the local newspaper. Truth be told, I never went to a single party in high school. Drinking with my peers sounded painful. I drank to be accepted by older people because I didn’t like who I was.

I think the people I drank with weren’t the kind who drank with kids their age in high school either. It was social, but it almost always felt medicinal and not recreational. Newsrooms, at least in the mid-1990s, were full of unhealthy people still pissed off they were recently forced outside to smoke cigarettes. They didn’t drink for fun. They drank so they could do it all again tomorrow. I understood that even then.

Once I was properly diagnosed and medicated for mental illness issues in my mid-20s, the drinking slowed quite a bit as I built a family and real career.

It wasn’t until I launched a magazine at the publishing company where I was a part-owner that I returned to the medicinal nature of alcohol. I suddenly found myself in situations where networking was necessary…and I’m a painfully shy person in real life. Thankfully, those situations almost always had cash bars.

At the end of the day of work, instead of leaving to go to a nearby Happy Hour, we kept the fridge stocked at work. It’s kind of fucked up now that I think about the fact we bought as much beer and wine as we did pods for the Keurig machine. We wanted to have that young, hip vibe, so a well-stocked fridge with a glass front told everyone we were different and didn’t mind alcohol in the workplace.

There were lots of meetings and dinners with clients where a buzz was almost unavoidable. At the end of long days, I’d drink at home to come down from the hustle and bustle of my day, and when things started going south, the alcohol helped ease my nerves and quell the stress.

Whether I needed liquid courage, a social lubricant, an anxiety-reducer or a sedative, alcohol always knew just how to take care of me. It could read my moods better than any human.

The problem with this belief is that it’s not true. Alcohol just deadened my nerve endings. I was seeking a disassociated numbness that made coping with difficult situations easier. It worked, but like the athlete who fills their body with steroids for short-term gain but who ruin their long-term health, I couldn’t see where things were heading.

My rock bottom was a stew of alcoholism, porn addiction, neglected mental health, failing familial relationships and a crumbling business. I’ve stopped trying to parse out percentages of blame. I don’t know what the formula exactly was, so I avoid all of those things.

Yes, this blog is about porn addiction, but I need to stay just as vigilant toward my alcoholism. At my first rehab, we did an exercise about poor choices. I realized I probably drove drunk 400-600 times in my life. I obtained illegal porn less than 1% of that number. Just because the porn arrest was the catalyst for the needed changes in my life four years ago, it doesn’t make the other aspects that brought me down less important.

There are very people who have one addiction. It’s just easy to point to the one that seems like it’s the biggest problem. I didn’t really wrap my arms around the idea of porn addiction prior to my arrest. But I knew I was drinking too much. I can’t forget or lose sight of that.

Legally, I can’t drink again until August 2019. My probation will be up at that point. I won’t be celebrating with champagne.

What is the definition of ‘Pornography’?

I read the results of a survey the other day and in the comments section a man said he was first introduced to pornography through HBO. Another said Victoria’s Secret catalogs. My first reaction was, “Hey! That’s not porn!” But if they think it is, am I really in any position to argue?

Throughout my recovery, dealings with the law, writing my book and the vast amount of research I’ve done on the topic in general, I’ve only seen textbook definitions of the word pornography. I have come to the conclusion that pornography is not a “thing” – it’s a concept.

It’s a grand idea that can be delineated 100 different ways. For instance, when I say the word “vehicle” what does that mean to you? We can all agree it has to do with transportation, but our individual definitions lay in the details.

We can probably all agree that pornography involves the depiction of sexual behavior. Beyond that, it gets tricky.

The Miller Test

First, let’s see what the folks in Washington have to say…

Based on past rulings, the federal government and our courts have a very strict interpretation of pornography, which makes almost everything NOT pornography. For something to deemed pornographic, it has to be labeled as obscene.

Obscenity was defined in the 1973 case of Miller v. California. A guy named Miller who ran a porn video business sent out brochures in 1971 that depicted sex acts. A man and his mother got a few in the mail and called the police. After losing by a jury in California, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in his favor 5-4.

What has largely now been accepted as the standard for obscenity is:

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Have you ever seen anything more broadly defined? All this really says to me is that illegal forms of sex – bestiality, underage, necrophilia, etc. – are patently obscene, but you could make an argument for almost anything else not being obscene. When does a smutty romance novel become literature? When does an adult movie become an artsy, independent film?

Much like health care and taxes, the government clearly isn’t going to help us figure out what “pornography” really means.

Put On Your Clothes

Since I was a kid, I always associated sex with nudity. I thought there were only three reasons to be nude: A medical examination, taking a shower or having sex. I was raised in a conservative home where people didn’t walk around naked. My mom would castigate my father for simply making the trek across the hall from their bedroom to the shower in his t-shirt and underwear. We didn’t talk about sex, we didn’t display nudity – and my mom’s reaction to both were the same – so there had to be a connection.

I think my young mind came to the conclusion that if an instance of “real life” nudity didn’t involve a medical exam or taking a shower, then it must fall into the “sex” category.

I think we can agree a strip club has certain sexual connotations. Is it the same thing with a nude beach? Many strip clubs aren’t allowed to go bottomless. So are completely nude people at the beach more sexual because they are displaying their sex organs? Are either of these instances actually pornographic since it’s “real life”?

I bring this up because there is a lot of interpretation that has to take place when one discerns what is or isn’t sexual. I remember watching a film in sixth grade that actually showed the tip of a man’s penis from inside the vagina at the time of ejaculation. Aside from still wondering how they got a tiny camera there, I don’t remember it as particularly sexy. It was clinical, yet it was technically more intimate than any adult film I’ve ever seen.

‘But I Know It When I See It’

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart uttered that oft-used line when declining to define obscenity in a case before the Supreme Court. I think it’s the standard most of us use, but I think in this increasingly complex world, a better definition might need to be created

Some would say that there are levels like “softcore porn” or “hardcore porn” but those are also largely concepts. To me, softcore features either the act or simulated act of intercourse, without showing the actual genital interaction.  But, if you’re watching someone lead a naked man and naked woman who are wearing fetish gear on a leash while another man and woman ride their back…is that softcore or hardcore? No actual sex is being depicted, just an alternative sexual behavior. So is it actually pornography? It seems way more explicit in some ways than people dry-humping on a late-night Cinemax movie, doesn’t it?

I go back to the survey I read the other day. It was conducted by a Christian group, so I expected more conservatism in the answers, but the men who provided comments really opened my eyes to what some consider pornography. Like the nude beach, Cinemax movie or whips-and-chains scenarios, it caused me to really think about what it is when I use the term “pornography.”

Can I just say, “I know it when I see it”? If some guy thinks a Victoria’s Secret catalog is porn, but I think it’s more just a nuisance on my end table…who is right? Penthouse Magazine is more explicit than Playboy, but which one is porn? Both? Neither? Am I indulging in pornography sitting at a strip club, or do I have to be watching on TV or a computer? Does the medium matter? Is it porn if it’s real life vs. digital or printed?

My conclusion

I’ve learned in recovery, the answers to questions that start with Who, What, When, Where or How can give you clues, but the real depth is found in questions that start with Why. Instead of asking myself “What is the definition of pornography?” I started to wonder “Why do I feel the need to define it?”

Then I realized the real answer: It isn’t important. If somebody is an alcoholic, what they had to drink is just a detail. If somebody is a gambling addict, it doesn’t matter if they lost it all on slot machines or sports betting. The kind of pornography – and if it reached the point that it met my eventual definition – somebody is addicted to has nothing to do with whether they should be given help.

Pornography addicts need help. By that point, what they looked at to reach addict status isn’t important (unless it is illegal). Further, only they can determine what they must stay away from in the future. I can’t go into online chatrooms, but you can fill my house with Victoria’s Secret catalogs. The opposite may be true of the guy who took that survey. We both identify as having a problem and have sought help.

If you think you’re an addict but are unsure, I hope the hesitancy is more about the effects on your life and not what it is you’re consuming. In rehab, I heard stories from some men that curled my toes and others that made me wonder what they were doing there. It was wrong to judge like that. We were all pornography addicts, regardless of what the definition is of “pornography.”

I’d be interested in hearing what other people think. Do you have a hard-and-fast definition?

 

 

For Addicts, the Best Advice Can Sometimes be the Worst

People just want to help, but when it comes to medical advice – which addiction recovery methods are – sometimes they miss the mark thinking that every nugget of wisdom is one-size-fits-all. I have found this to be particularly true of some of the members of the mental health community and those who are firmly entrenched in a 12-step program. A PhD or pocketful of sobriety chips doesn’t give you the keys to my recovery.

First allow me to say that I’m giving my opinion here, and that’s it. I’m not predicting these techniques will work or fail for you. I just know that with some of the advice I heard over time, if followed, would have sent me closer to relapse than recovery.

I’ve walked away from jobs because of hypocrisy. I left religion because of hypocrisy. I have a bullshit detector like few others and if I let the hypocrisy of some of the recovery methods and ideas get to me, I never would have got as far as I did.

I also want to say that whatever keeps you sober and in recovery is what you should do. If I disagree with a technique or mantra, it’s just because it rings hollow for me. If it works for you, jump in with both feet. Recovery is the goal.

I want to thank Rhys Pasimio, LPC, CADC II for the topic idea for this entry. Check out his blog HERE. He’s got some great stuff there and his explanation of addiction is spot on.

Rhys wrote an entry about how addicts are told one of the only ways to avoid relapse is to avoid one’s triggers. Check it out HERE. I wholeheartedly agree with him and am glad he finally said it because it’s something few seem to understand – you need to learn to cope with your triggers, not avoid them. Isn’t avoiding the problem what got you to this point in the first place?

If you’re an alcoholic and are told that you need to stay away from everywhere alcohol is served, how do you ever go to a restaurant or family holiday party again? You’re told you’re more susceptible to slipping up in that environment. You need to be empowered, not told you’ll likely fail. A porn addict is told to stay away from any sexual media or it’s a slippery slope back to watching XXX stuff on the computer. So, what you’re telling me is that I should never turn on the television or watch a movie ever again? I should never walk into a bookstore that has a magazine section? If I happen into the photography books section and there are nude studies books on the shelf, I’m doomed? They will fly out into my hands? I can’t just walk on by? Avoidance is setting someone up for failure, not helping them. Helping them is coming up with a plan to face their triggers directly.

 

The clichés

If you want to hear 101 clichés, the recovery community is really for you. If not for alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food and every other addiction you can imagine, the inspirational poster industry never would have got off the ground.

Clichés begin because they are true, but over time become more a saying of rote than of meaning. When somebody dies you tell their loved one: “They’re in a better place now.” Why? Because that’s what you say. But let’s be honest…you don’t know if there’s an afterlife. Nobody does. However, we go on saying this because it’s just what you say.

I find when you integrate clichés into the recovery community, they are usually nothing more than excuses for slipping, gray areas to allow the behavior to continue or bad advice that leads back to using.

Here are a few examples:

“Progress Not Perfection” – An oft-used phrase to make people who have relapsed feel better. If you read between the lines, it’s a Get Out of Jail Free card, like in Monopoly. To the newcomer, it basically says “try to wean yourself.” To the long-timer it says, “You were doing well until the incident, you can do well again.” This is advice is not OK for a heroin user. It’s not OK for somebody who gambles their children’s food money away. It’s not OK for the porn addict who has strayed into illegal territory. No…with some additions, perfection is required.

“Relapse is a Part of Recovery” — I understand why they say this…you don’t want the addict to continue on their relapse. So, trick them into thinking that they were supposed to relapse because it leads to sobriety? Wouldn’t a hug work just as well? Or maybe the solution is, “You made a mistake, let’s figure out why.” Relapse is not a part of recovery. It’s part of addiction. If you’re driving west, you can’t drive east to get where you’re going. You must continue to go west. Going east isn’t part of the journey. It’s doing the wrong thing.

In the famed original 12 steps for Alcoholics Anonymous created by Bill W. and Doctor Bob, Step 9 says: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The idea is that whoever you hurt during your drinking – or whatever your addiction since this appears in just about every other 12-step program – you must own up and fix the issues…that is, unless they might be hurt. Does that mean physically hurt? Emotionally hurt? Who are “others”? Can others be me? What if I confess something to a person, but I think they’ll punch me? What if I tell my spouse something and I think she’ll freeze the bank account? What if I think my kids will leave me forever? That seems like financial and emotional harm to me.

Bill W. created an amazing program that helped millions…but he was also a well-documented womanizer in his later years. That James Woods-helmed biopic doesn’t really share that. Some hypothesize he just moved his addiction from alcohol to sex. I bet a lot of money he used the Step 9 loophole to not tell his wife about all of those other women.

“Keep Coming Back – It Works If You Work It” Ah, the sweet hand-holding cliché that means the end of another meeting. This idea is true because Alcoholics Anonymous tells people not to drink. Sex Addicts Anonymous tells people not to “act out.” If you don’t drink or screw around, it works. That’s a little too simple. The truth is, 12-step meetings don’t work for a lot of people. I found a lot to take from them early in recovery, but I think they’re more detrimental than helpful to me now. The idea of “Do things right and things will be right” is correct but it’s too simple for someone with a brain disease. Being unable to follow this mantra, especially early in recovery may lead to somebody not attending 12-step meetings because they feel like a failure.

 

Wrapping it up…

I can’t say for sure, because I’m not one of the average, normal people – but I get the feeling that clichés, platitudes and inspirational posters work for many of them, so they assume it will work for us. And like at the funeral, they find comfort in well-worn phrases like “At least he’s not suffering anymore.”

As for the 12-step mantras, it really is like religion. Some people find it, but most don’t. Those who do succeed think they’ve got the only answer, as do many people who have gone to school for years to treat addicts. All that does is set-up those who need a slightly different answer for failure.

I was never going to be successful if I continued to ask the question “How do I stop?” I couldn’t stop looking at porn, or drinking, or working 100 hours per week just like I couldn’t stop collecting baseball cards when I was 14 or playing video games when I was 21. I have an addictive personality. I don’t stop. I hop from addiction to addiction. The only way I was able to stop was to change the question from “How do I stop?” to “Why do I start?” Once I began the journey to answer that question, recovery has been a reality. The answers are often not pretty, but they are the answers that lead me to recovery, not the clichés that almost lead me to relapse.