God’s Confusing Role in My Recovery

I’m going to be totally up front here, and I really hope that I don’t unintentionally or ignorantly say something that offends, but I’ve got to say that since entering the world of blogging, I’m more confused than ever the role God plays in recovery and my life.

I was raised Catholic but left the church because of what I saw as a lot of hypocrisy. I found that too many people brought their politics into the church and twisted the Bible to fit their worldview. The “social justice and peace” group at church comprised of people I would never call fair nor kind. I was also discouraged by the number of people who carried an invisible moral superiority entitlement badge, yet were horrible people and by the number of people who refused to answer my questions, yet seemed like smart people outside of church.

I liked the ideas of Jesus, but felt like most people twisted what the meaning of what he said and what he did while on Earth to match their agenda. The Bible is open to interpretation and I don’t think they could see other angles than ones that already fed into their biases, stereotypes and superstitions. I think that someone with no ties to religion at all would look at the Bible and tell you that Jesus was the kind of liberal that is too liberal for most liberals. But that angle isn’t one that a lot of followers can accept.

So, I walked away. I even started calling myself an atheist for a decade or so. I actually called myself a “non-practicing atheist” because even most atheist people got on my nerves. Whether it’s an atheist, Christian, scientist, politician or my parents, I’ve never liked it when people tried to tell me they had the answers for me. Nobody has all the answers and I’ve always felt the best way you can try to have all the answers is to understand all sides of an issue. That’s not a position many in our society, regardless of socioeconomic or religious background, take. Social media and a 24-hour news cycle has fueled the fire of the need that every person is correct in their beliefs and everybody else is wrong.

It was while I was writing my book in jail (The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – seriously, I need some sales this week – go buy it) that I realized in looking back over the last 20 years that I’m actually one of the most faith-filled people I know. I not only believe things are going to turn out the way they should, I believe things are going to turn out for the best. When they don’t, I’m disappointed, but can move on pretty fast because disappointment usually makes sense down the road, even if I can’t see it now.

What I also realized when I was writing the book (again, it’s call The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About – for some reason, Amazon is selling it for 6 cents off the cover price, act now!) is that I do believe in a higher power, but I’ve been calling it “The Universe” since I left the church. My higher power isn’t really an active, take-sides kind of ruler. Mine is just a stabilizing energy that makes sure things stay in order. There’s something maintaining the balance and providing me with what I need – or don’t need – in this world.

I don’t think the human mind is supposed to understand a lot of things and I think that forces us to take the dual tracks of science and religion. Both exist to codify our existence. I love quantum physics because I think it’s the closest marriage of science and religion, but again, feel like our mind doesn’t really have the capacity to comprehend ideas like eternity and infinity.

As I was writing the book (you know the title) I started to feel this calling to talk about my experience. This feeling came over me that now it was my turn to help others who were pornography addicts and perhaps even more importantly, to inform the world about pornography addiction. It doesn’t take a PhD in statistics to look at the numbers and recognize it’s going to be a major health crisis in this country.

So, I started this blog about four months before my book (the title escapes me at the moment) was released and was so wonderfully surprised how many people responded positively. There were those who had either porn addiction, other forms of addiction or mental health issues in their lives, or lives of their loved ones who could relate, but there was also a lot of people who just wanted to learn. It was invigorating, and made me want to share my story even more.

But then I started hitting the strong religious types. I have no problem with them and try not to judge them, but will admit I do have a problem not judging people who I feel are judging me. Maybe it’s a PTSD thing back to being a kid in the church, but certain things make me feel like I’m having a physical reaction. I get really worked up at some basic stuff and I don’t know exactly where it’s coming from. I could give examples but don’t want to offend anybody because I have nothing against you or your beliefs. I’ve actually enjoyed getting to know most through this site and share many of your beliefs, I just take a different path to the same solution.

When the book (the title is…no, never mind) came out in January, I started doing a lot of promotion, which I continue with today. This process of telling my story again and again has been amazing and absolutely drives home the point that I want to help. I want to be a source of information and support. I want to bring the concept to people that anybody can be a porn addict and that the addiction can lead to some horrible places.

When I step back, I recognize that I sound like someone who is joining the ministry. I know what the devout Christian would say. God has chosen me to deliver this message and is using me as his vessel. He put me through these trials because I have a greater purpose than the life porn addiction took away from me. The real hardcores would throw a Bible verse or two my way to drive their point home, and that’s where I’d start to curl into the fetal position.

I’m now at a place where I’m putting together two presentations – ironically both title “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About.” A version of one of the presentations is geared toward a Christian audience. Despite their telepathic link with God, Christians have higher rates of porn use and porn addiction than secular types. Let’s not debate why today.

I want to stand in front of church groups and talk about this issue. It’s important. But I can’t quote Scripture and I can’t tell them if their invisible friend is going to help the kick their porn habits or not, and that scares me, because I think that’s what religious people want to hear. I’m a big believer in doing what you need to quit any addiction, but I don’t know why God chose you to have it nor do I know if he’ll help solve the problem. If you think he will, that’s important. Faith is huge in recovery.

When I was a kid, nobody at church ever abused me, yet my religious upbringing has somehow traumatized me. Blogging about porn addiction, and now trying to spread my message, is bringing up a lot of hard-to-explain feelings. I don’t know if it’s God. I don’t know if it’s religion. I don’t know if it’s people who practice. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I know it’s not just when I log-in. It’s bleeding into real life now.

I share what’s happening to me not to get any answers, be preached at or be given any kind of great advice, but just really to remind everyone that faith, belief and the role of God differs in many people’s lives. It doesn’t make any of us better or worse, chosen or cast away. Some of us feel like we have all of the answers and some of us know that we’ll never have any. Some absolutely need to believe in God to function and others don’t give it a second thought. It’s OK. It’s all OK.

Now go buy my stinkin’ book.

Recovery began by dropping resentments

“I could never forgive/am still upset with X for doing Y.” I’m sure you have plenty of X’s and Y’s. I try not to anymore. One of the biggest pieces of my recovery has been learning to drop grudges and squash resentments before they start. Letting things go feels like releasing oxygen; refusing to feels like suffocation.

I remember it was only a few days into my first in-patient rehab when we were tasked to write a letter to someone we held a resentment against. At the end of the exercise, we put them through the shredder, so it wasn’t like it was going to ever be seen by them. It was more just about a cathartic release.

On the surface, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d heard. In the past, my way of dealing with resentment was to either stifle and move forward or angrily confront the person, usually just making things worse in the process. This exercise sounded like hippie, touchy-feely crap. Then I did it.

The first person I could think of was one of the people I co-owned a couple of companies with prior to being arrested. They, like most of my business partners, were once someone I considered a close friend, but had distanced themselves from me a few months earlier and I was still framing it like an abandonment.

Once I started writing, I focused on the small things this person did that irked me over the years. You know, the kind of stuff that gets under your skin in the moment and you look back and think “That wasn’t cool.”

It was little things, like saying they’d help with something I thought was major, but backing out at the last minute. In retrospect, it wasn’t major, they had a decent reason, and my Plan B was just fine. Or needing them to step out of their comfort zone to deal with somebody, but them not being able to overcome their anxiety. I have anxiety too, so I get it. I just wish they could have faced it.

It surprised me how good it felt to understand their side of things. When I stopped being the center of the universe, it’s easier to understand other people’s issues.

Then I moved onto the bigger things. This person had spoken ill of me to quite a few people. I don’t know why they didn’t think it wouldn’t get back to me. I realized just how much this person and I did that to others when we were on the same page. Should it be any great surprise they would do that me? Maybe it’s my journalism roots – or why I got into journalism in the first place – but I used to really enjoy gossiping and this person and I had earned PhDs in the science.

I was collapsing in on myself like a black hole, but they weren’t. Their behavior was boorish, just like mine was when I did the same thing, but they were still behaving naturally.

When it came to them “abandoning” me as I flamed out and crashed like a satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere (What’s with all the space references today?) that wound was still very fresh when I wrote the letter, but I was able to take a breath and recognize it was not abandonment. It was pulling away from a bad situation by someone who was looking out for themselves. People shut themselves off to others as a form of self-preservation. This is what they were doing. Through an objective lens, it honestly made sense.

I read the letter out loud to the group and put it through the shredder. Writing down that I forgave the person and then saying it out loud was powerful. That night, as I went to sleep, I noticed I felt a lot better. I thought about some of my other business partners and other people who had made it onto my list of resentments. Once I got that first person out of the way, it was so much easier to just let things go with everybody else.

Asking myself why I was holding onto things actually made me feel kind of dumb in a way. What did I think would change or come out of negative thoughts or energy? Nothing could change what happened in the past and I wasn’t looking for anything to really change in the future. Did I expect them to grovel at my feet begging forgiveness? Even if they did, I’d have been angry for them causing a scene to make me look like the bad guy. Those kinds of lasting bad feelings weren’t going to be mended, because they couldn’t, so why carry it with me?

Letting go isn’t saying they were right or wrong. It’s not saying I was right or wrong. It’s saying that the energy in taking a side isn’t worth the outcome, especially when the outcome is negative emotions. I don’t have to admit defeat because there is no winning side in resentment.

I talked with my wife every night while I was at that rehab on the telephone. She and I were in very similar places of resentment against many of the same people when I left. When she’d voice anger toward someone, I realized mine was either gone or had dissipated greatly. Somehow, I was learning to let things go.

Now, nearly four years after that happened, I look back at the angry person I was and feel bad for that guy. Sure, he may have been more successful on the surface, but he carried too much spite inside. I think my wife has released a lot of it, but I know there are still people who carry resentments for me and carry resentments against me that they’ll probably never let go of. I feel sad for both groups. It’s just not worth it.

Let your resentments go. You have nothing to gain by maintaining them.

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.

This is Not How I Thought It Would Feel

Most of you are probably sick to death of me mentioning my book, but I wanted to comment on the conflicting feelings, both emotional and physical, its release is causing me. On a completely objective level, as someone fascinated by human behavior, it’s been interesting to experience. On a personal level, it’s a roller coaster I can’t say I’m enjoying.

For those who are new to my story, my book, The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About: How I Let My Pornography Addiction Hurt People and Destroy Relationships was released January 10. Buy a copy for every day of the week!

So, I’ve been told 95% of the books produced today are self-published. It’s great that this is possible as it gets so much more knowledge and experience into the world. It also keeps the book alive in the age of the Internet. But, there are many writers, editors and executives in the publishing industry who believe self-publishing comes with a certain stigma. This stigma is why I looked for 4 months before I found a publisher who would tell my story the way I wanted. I could have self-published much earlier.

Of the 5% of books that are actually published, only about 10% of those ever see a shelf in a bookstore. Unfortunately, the book store – like encyclopedias, travel agents, newspapers and stationery stores – are dying in our increasingly digital world. This means only about 1 out of 200 books ever sees a shelf in any bookstore.

Today, I found out my book is going to be in at least one store. By the end of the week, I’ll likely have more. It’s surreal…and utterly nauseating.

Yesterday, I finally received my author’s copies of the books. I won’t explain why there was a mix-up, but there are people who ordered the book on Amazon who got it before I ever had an actual copy of my book. Now, I sit here, with several copies next to me. The thing that I poured 18 months of my life into is here…and it’s real. It’s not just on a screen. I’m vulnerable in a way I’ve never known. The closest feeling is when you wake up from that dream where you’re naked walking around high school.

Over the last 10 days, I’ve been doing a lot of media for the book, much of which hasn’t yet been released, and that’s going to continue for a while. It feels like there are two people being interviewed. There’s the guy who has the story in the book about his descent to rock bottom and implosion of his life with porn addiction being the central theme and then there’s the guy who can rattle off statistics and provide factual information and resources about the addiction. That first guy wants to vomit when people are asking hard questions about what he went through. The second guy is cool, calm and collected.

There’s also the proximity to where I’m doing interviews. Yesterday morning, I did a call-in interview with a radio show in Napa Valley, California. I think that’s roughly 3,000 miles away. When it was over, I moved on with my day. When my hometown newspaper did a short article and the largest TV news station in Maine did a story, my stomach was in knots, especially immediately before the stories were released. Thankfully, I was happy with the way both turned out.

I follow the Amazon Best Seller Rank listings like it’s the stock market. Am I up? Am I down. One hour I’m listed worldwide at 73,492 and the next it’s 240,314. Oh, no! I’m dropping. Then the next hour it’s up to 111,845…we’re gaining again! Then there are all the sub-categories. For the last week, I’ve consistently been the third best-selling new sexual recovery book. That’s a very specific audience…but can I officially say it’s a “best seller”?

I don’t know how to regulate my feelings, be it emotional or physical, with this. I have a feeling my bipolar meds are like, “Dude, chill…we can only work so hard.”

I know I don’t have an international best-seller on my hands. I’ll be lucky to sell a couple thousand. It’s a taboo topic with a limited audience. I know in a year I’ll probably be shopping my next book around to publishers and not thinking a lot about this one.

For now though, it’s an awesome experience…and makes me want to puke.

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?