Addict or Not, Therapy is Something All People Should Consider

I’m starting this about an hour before I head to my biweekly therapy session and it occurred to me that I’ve never really written at any length about the role it has played in my life during my addictive phase or the major piece it has been on my journey in recovery.

I first went to a therapist when I was 20. In late August that year, my close friend Mark was killed by a drunk driver and it sent me into a tail spin I had never experienced. After two months of barely being able to get off the couch, I finally went to therapy. While the therapist and I didn’t click, the five or six sessions I had helped me get things back on track.

A couple of years later, when I was (I think) 24, the first long-term relationship of my life ended with my live-in girlfriend. I was not mature enough to be in the kind of grown-up relationship she wanted, but her leaving was much like a death and I spiraled again.

I sought help again and finally clicked with a therapist, but it was when I created my first major misconception about therapy. I was waiting for a magic bullet statement that would put life into perspective. I was waiting for the one directive, the one instruction that would suddenly make sense of everything.

After about 18 months, we stopped with the sessions. I felt like I’d evolved to a good point mentally. Over the next 12 years or so, as I got married, built a family and career, I’d periodically check back in with him and eventually saw a couple of other therapists for small 4-6 week chunks for a tune-up, but never clicked with any of them.

The reality was that I was never 100% honest with them. I downplayed my alcoholism and never mentioned my porn addiction. I was just waiting for the secret and thought it was taking a very long time and an awful lot of therapists and I still had nothing. Talking to someone always helped, but they weren’t FIXING me.

 

Going into therapy for real

Then, the police showed up at my door and life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. I hadn’t seen a therapist in probably five years at that point. I was riding too high on my own BS to notice what was happening and dearly paid the price.

One of the first things I did was to go see my doctor and get a referral to a new therapist. This was within 48 hours of being arrested and while I was a little uncomfortable with the fact I was being referred to a woman for the first time, beggars couldn’t be choosers at that point.

I don’t remember much of our first two sessions prior to leaving for 10 weeks for alcohol rehab on the other side of the country. The one thing I do remember she said was, “Don’t just play along. Give it a chance and see if you can get something out of it.”

Thankfully, after about a week, I heeded her advice and came to accept I was as textbook alcoholic as they make them.

When I returned, I continued our sessions, usually twice a week, for about nine months. We talked a lot about my anxiety concerning the legal situation swirling around me, but we also about things I had begun uncovering at rehab including abuse from a babysitter, how I viewed sexuality, what drove me to drink, and how someone like me who defined himself based on his professional endeavors was going to exist in a world where I’d never have another white-collar job.

Maybe the rehab helped jumpstart the process, maybe I was just sick and tired of the life I led for so long or maybe it was the fact that it was a woman in my age bracket, but therapy was different this time around. She understood my strange sense of humor. She actually gave me advice. She helped me understand I wasn’t a monster, a pedophile, a scourge on society…but that I did have issues when it came to pornography. If not for her, I never would have attended my second rehab for porn addiction.

I also came to recognize that a therapist is not there the way a doctor who prescribes medication is there. She can’t tell me some magic statement to change everything. It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for a reason. I had to train myself to stop my thought processes dead in their tracks and analyze why I made certain decisions or held certain beliefs. It’s a bit grueling, but it provided more insight into who I was than anything else in the recovery process.

Once you understand who you are, that’s when you can start making changes. Too many people – including me for years – just wanted to skip to the changes part. Therapy doesn’t work that way.

 

A lifelong journey in therapy

I continued to see her after the second rehab and she testified at my sentencing, which I think helped give me reduced time. She visited me in jail and I resumed seeing her regular when I got out six months later and continue to see her to this day, more than four years after I first met her.

We got through the porn and alcohol stuff a while ago, although we do revisit it. Those are really symptoms and we talk about causes.

Now, we’re getting into some of the primordial ooze that is at my deep, deep core. It’s the stuff that is the building blocks of my mind and wired into my DNA. It’s why we’ve gone from weekly one-hour appointments to biweekly two-hour ones. Sometimes I just need to babble for 75 minutes before making some massive breakthrough that I needed four years and (when including the other therapy and rehabs) thousands of hours to get at. Some days, it’s absolutely exhausting and takes so much out of me, but it’s a necessary thing to evolve as a person.

I spend a lot of time on message boards and answering email from addicts and their loved ones. As many of you know, I actually started my own little advising side gig because of the time I spend doing this. While it’s far from professional therapy, I can at least ask a few new questions and raise a couple of issues that the person I’m working with hasn’t considered before. Then, I try to steer them toward professional therapy.

I don’t think it really matters who you are or what your story is. Having somebody who is rooting for you and on your side, yet detached from the ongoing saga of your life, is extremely helpful. I’ve learned that you have to click with the person and they aren’t going to reveal the secret to life to you, but they can guide you to the far reaches of your mind.

That’s a scary place for some people. It was for me and if you told me in the beginning how much work it would be, I wouldn’t be able to fathom the mountain I was going to have to climb. At some point, we may go to monthly one-hour sessions for check-in purposes, but I know therapy will always have a role in my life.

Even if you think you’re the healthiest person in the world, I urge, urge, urge you to consider seeing a therapist. I’m proof that they work and can exponentially make your life a better experience.

 

The Day I Went to Jail

I usually talk about something to do with porn addiction, but this is a bit about what happens when it comes time to face your (well-deserved) punishment. Nobody told me about porn addiction, but nobody also told me what it would be like going to jail and that weighed heavy on my mind the 22 months between arrest and sentencing. So I thought I’d go a little off-topic and share what my first day in jail was like.

The judge granted me one week between my sentencing and the day I was supposed to report to “get my affairs in order.” I think years ago if you’d have ever told me that I was in a situation where I’d have a week before I knew I was going to jail, I would have told you that I was going to form a plan to flee and live as a fugitive. When you find yourself actually in that situation, the bravado disappears. I knew doing my time would bring me that much quicker to returning to whatever normal life I could cultivate.

The truth also is, I did the crime. While I was battling mental illness and addiction, I was well aware I had both and did not take proper care of myself. That led me to eventually convincing a teenage girl to perform a sex act in a video chatroom. I didn’t know her age at the time, but that is not an excuse for my behavior. I got what was coming to me.

My wife and I stopped off at the pharmacy at 8:15 a.m. on the morning of January 22, 2014. I needed to pick up my mental health medication. The whole thing seemed routine, yet I knew that would be the end of routine. I was surprisingly calm.

Heading up the walkway into the building was surreal after my wife dropped me off. I knew I’d be stuck in the building for seven or eight months, but what that meant wasn’t registering. I think part of me started detaching from reality at that point at as a coping mechanism.

I’ve seen enough jail and prison movies to know that intake is a humiliating experience, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I was given delousing shampoo and instructed to shower after stripping. Nobody watched me strip or shower and it was in a private stall. Following the shower, I had to show I had nothing in my ears or mouth, lifted my testicles and spread my ass cheeks and cough. The officer who was putting me through the paces seemed uninterested in doing a thorough job, much to my appreciation.

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While this was taken before I got there, this was the exact room that I stayed in during my time at Androscoggin County Jail. Photo ran with a story in the Sun Journal.

I was given a beige shirt, pants and a pair of bright orange slip-on shoes. In all, everything was actually quite comfortable, like pajamas and slippers. I wished I had underwear and socks – and I brought these things with me – but was told it would be a day or two before the officer who could release the property to me would be there.

When I asked about why I wearing tan, they told me it was for minimum security. It was the first time I was told I’d be heading to that part of the jail. He then said because of my conviction and the fact I was known in the jail community because of the media coverage, I’d be put into a protective custody pod. That meant at least one corrections officer would be stationed outside the door at all times and that I would always be accompanied by an officer when I traveled throughout the jail. I was given a plastic duffle bag to hold any possessions I acquired in the pod. Inside it were a couple bars of soap, shampoo, a tooth brush and an orientation booklet.

The first, “Huh…I never knew that” moment was looking at the toiletries. They were all “Bob Barker” brand. I went through my entire jail time thinking it was the game show host and didn’t find out until a few years later it was just some same-named dude from the Carolinas who, like me, was ironically a former publisher and elected official. He went on to make jail toiletries. I went on to use them.

Upon arriving outside the pod, I was given a mattress, a sheet and blanket. The mattress was little more than a worn-out replica of one of those mats from gym class you’d do sit-ups on. It was around 11 a.m. when I walked in for the first time. There were six bunk beds and all except one upper-bunk were full of sleeping people. I tossed my mattress on the metal frame and climbed onto my perch.

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The pod sometimes got so crowded they would bring in “boats” for people to sleep on placed on the floor. To the left you see the door to the mostly private bathroom. Photo by Sun Journal.

I made a promise to myself that I told many people during the 22 months following my arrest and reporting day. I said that the first thing I’d do when I was situated in jail was breathe a sigh of relief because I knew how much time I was doing and I knew when it would be over. Two years of not knowing really wears a person – and his loved ones – down.

So I sat on my bed and looked around at the 11 people asleep around me. This was my new reality. Every second that passed would be one second closer to being out.

Several years have passed since I left, but the jail is only about a two-minute drive my house and I probably pass it 10 times a week. About half of them I see and reflect on the fact there is an entire different culture going on inside of the building I never want to be a part of again. The other half of the time, I drive by without noticing. I’m not sure which is healthier.

Check out my latest article in Recovery Today magazine about inpatient rehab

If you’ve got a couple minutes to take a break from indulging from Resurrection and Looking for Eggs, here is my latest contribution to Recovery Today magazine. If you haven’t checked out this magazine, it’s equally as useful and informative for those with or without addiction/recovery situations in their lives. Subscriptions are free.

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I guess if I’m starting to be featured in magazines, maybe I should embrace that porn addiction expert title they keep throwing at me on podcasts.

The -est day of my life

Today marks exactly four years that a knock at my door changed my life forever. The Maine State Police were there to arrest me for my inappropriate online behavior. It was the scariest, saddest, worst, loneliest day of my life.

Exactly 1,461 days have passed since that day. If you would have told me on that day that four years later, I’d have a better relationship with my family, less stress and anxiety, a job that paid more for less work, rejuvenated mental health and be free of my pornography and alcohol addictions, I would have said, “Where do I sign?”

I couldn’t see it on that day. That day was the fiercest, muddiest, freakiest, emptiest day I’d known.

Yes, I lost everything I worked for professionally and it was my fault. Life ceased to exist as I knew it on that day. It took a little while to recognize it, but that was not a bad thing.

And that is why now, I look at March 20, 2014 as the clearest, luckiest, happiest, best, gladdest and most honest day of my life.

Facing Triggers Makes You Stronger

I hope this entry doesn’t trigger anyone, but I wanted to talk about triggers. So, it may be triggery. Prepare to be triggered. Is this a good enough trigger warning? Trigger.

I think it’s time in the mental health/addiction/abuse survivor communities that we talk a long, hard look at triggers and figure out – on an individual basis – what are actual debilitating triggers and what are excuses for us to not live our lives and face the challenges everyday life brings.

I was talking to a therapist recently, exchanging emails about my book, and they expressed something that I’ve often felt but never thought was safe to say: Some people use their mental illness, addiction or past abuse as a crutch and excuse to sit on the sidelines of life and “triggers” are the doctor’s note that excuses them from gym class. Sometimes, you actually can’t participate, but a lot of the time, you just don’t want to…it’s hard, it’s too much work, it makes you tired, you might not be good at, you don’t like it, people might laugh at you and you may just be lazy.

I was glad to hear this, because I agree. As somebody who is in recovery with a couple of addictions, was the victim of some childhood abuse and tries to keep a couple of diagnosed mental illness issues in check, I could easily throw myself on the floor and take a pass on living life. I know I could also easily create the kind of enablers who would let me.

I don’t want this article to come off as cold or unfeeling. I understand we’re all at different phases of our recovery, but it feels like the more I become part of a recovery community, the more I meet people who have never had an identity in life until they became “addiction/abuse/mental health survivor.” It wholly consumes them and it just doesn’t seem healthy. They use “triggers” as excuses, crutches and ways to draw attention to themselves.

Why not look at triggers as challenges to our recovery – good challenges. Recovery means nothing if we’re not overcoming something. Those drug addicts sitting in prison are not in recovery. They are just being denied their addiction, and not by choice. Triggers allow us to use the tools we develop in recovery. Isn’t that why we learned them in the first place?

My alcohol triggers

I don’t want somebody to put alcohol in front of me and I don’t want to be around drunk people. I have had both happen to me since I stopped drinking almost four years ago and it comes with a combination of jealousy, anger and irritation. I haven’t always been able to immediately remove myself from the situation. When this first happened several years ago, it was that I wanted to drink. Now, it’s more about not being around the assholes that people turn into when they are drunk, because it reminds me of the kind of asshole I was. It’s still triggering of strong emotions, but they have evolved…and I don’t have to run from them. I think it’s actually better to sit with them and figure out what they are about.

I try to avoid alcohol. I don’t have any need to go down that aisle at the grocery store, I won’t buy it for other people if asked and I don’t keep any in my home. I could avoid family gatherings, where drinking happens and I could never go to a restaurant again to keep away from alcohol. That would reduce trigger-causing situations. It would also mean I don’t spend Christmas with my family or enjoy quality food made for me that I don’t know how to make at home.

My porn triggers

I have Cinemax and HBO and whatever other cable channels are part of the massive introductory package for DirecTV. They show plenty of late night skin. I use the Internet for my job as a freelancer writer. Nobody knows more than me just how much porn can be found on the Internet. Almost every convenience store has Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines. In the past, I turned on HBO specifically for the dirty stuff and went online with porn as the only item on the agenda.

Yeah, if I happen to be up at midnight and I’m cruising through the preview guide and see something like “Lust Island” on one of the pay channels, it piques my curiosity. I know my favorite porn sites are only a couple keystrokes away at any given moment and when I see a porno magazine as I’m buying gas or coffee with a particularly intriguing cover behind the counter, I wonder what that woman looks like naked on the inside.

And then I just keep going. I don’t watch the movie, look at the websites or purchase the magazine. Is it hard? Not nearly as much as it was when I first started addressing my porn addiction, but there are still times where I have to actually tell myself “No. Walk away.”

I could get rid of the cable channels with one phone call. I could find a job that never means I need to be on the Internet again. I could only buy gas or coffee at places that don’t have pornographic magazines.

If I did that though, I’d miss out on a lot of good, non-pornographic movies and shows. I’d have to turn my back on a career I’ve spent over 20 years building and I’d have to drive further for gas and coffee. Why would I want to deny myself these things and make my life even more complicated? Because of triggers?

My abuse triggers

As somebody who suffered from various forms of abuse from a non-family caregiver when I was a kid and has had to deal with all kinds of repressed memories surfacing in the last few years, I get how hard it can be if you’re an abuse victim and don’t have addictions.

For 25 years, I could drive by this babysitter’s house without even thinking about the amount of time I spent in terror in that home. When these memories started to be unlocked, I couldn’t ignore her home when I drove by. The proximity to my parents’ house makes it almost impossible to avoid, although I could drive 2-3 miles out of my way and get to their house from another route.

I probably had a visceral reaction to her home for over a year. I would bet that’s 100 times at least. I could say the positive is that I didn’t drive 200-300 miles out of my way, which isn’t cheap when it comes to gas. I drove by that house earlier today. I saw it, said to myself “there it is” and kept on driving. She’s dead. She hadn’t lived there in 10 years before she died. But if I went a different way, it’s like she won.

Summing Up

I think for real recovery, we need to face our triggers more than we do. We allow them to act as anchors, as hurdles and as impediments to a better life. We’re scared of the emotions we’ll feel or the actions we’ll take facing them, but if you can get through, you’re going to be stronger on the other side.

I don’t think I’ll ever get myself in a situation where somebody is pouring booze down my throat, holding my eyelids open to look at porn, or forcing me to tour that home and tell the stories of my abuse. So as long as I learn to control my own actions, triggers are actually little exercises in making me stronger over the long-term.

If you’re incapable of facing your triggers, I’m sorry. It must be horrible. But for every trigger you honestly can’t handle, are there one or two that you can but choose not to deal with? I could let all of my triggers run my life and make my decisions for me, but I don’t. I choose to be the one in control now. Ask yourself if there’s more control in your life by facing your triggers head-on and defeating them. I think you know the answer.

** Learn more about all phases of mental health therapy by clicking here **

Life Can’t Be Consumed By Work, Even if The Work Is A Good Cause

Sometimes you don’t plan on taking a week off. You just notice on a Sunday morning that your throat is a little scratchy and later that night you’re lying on the couch, writhing in pain with whatever hit the wife and son a few days earlier. Despite it not being a vacation, there is something to be said for Mother Nature stepping in and stopping you dead (or at least feeling nearly dead) in your tracks.

Aside from the obvious addiction to pornography this site is devoted to and my co-addiction with alcohol which also gets a lot of words on here, the third part of the unholy addiction triumvirate for me back in the day was work. I used it for the escape of stress alcohol gave me and the sense of control the porn provided.

I cannot undercut the role that work played in my eventual downfall in late 2013 and early 2014. If I didn’t want to deal with issues at home, I escaped to work. If I was feeling low, I’d do something at work to get praise from the public. When I didn’t have enough work at the magazine I operated, I started a film festival. I created a world where there was something “important” for me to always be working on.

While I spent plenty of time in rehab dealing with the porn and alcohol demons, I never went anywhere to deal with my work addiction. Once my life was steamrolled, the work disappeared. About six months after I was arrested, I started with a little freelance writing here and there, never more than a few hours a day. I did this for the next year until I went to jail.

When I got out, I didn’t feel like doing much work. I’d written the first draft of my book in jail and knew I wanted to edit it, but I didn’t start on that task for about three months, around the same time I returned to freelance writing and never worked more than six hours a day, usually not more than four. Thankfully, I have a couple of clients who demand quality over quantity, so I can make a livable wage and keep my hours low, something I knew that I’d have to watch because of my tendency in the past to get lost in work.

Very late last year, after I started this site, I found out when the book was coming out and I started working to identify marketing opportunities. I bookmarked a lot of podcast sites, media outlets and book reviewers who I knew I’d have to go back and track down later. This added a little bit to my workload, but nothing major.

Once the book came out in early January, though, I was starting to replace my regular work time with promotion for the book. I followed up on all of those leads and cultivated dozens, if not hundreds, more. I did the interviews and the guest blogs and sent copies off to reviewers and libraries.

After a couple weeks of this, I noticed a dip in my income, so I started pushing the freelancing back, but didn’t cut down on the book promotion. I noticed that most days, instead of being in front of my computer 4-6 hours, I was now in front of it closer to 8-10. I told myself that at some point, I’d be done with podcasts or have contacted all of the libraries, but I think that was a matter of justification.

Logically, I can look at the math of it. I can work for three hours for one client and make around $100. Or I can spend three hours and send out copies of my book to reviewers or libraries or participate in another interview. If any one of those things results in the sale of three books, well, I’m putting around $7 in my pocket.

It doesn’t have to be a matter of either/or, as I know I’m in the infancy of whatever the porn addiction awareness path I’m on is to become. But, it also can’t become an obsession. I do feel a strong calling toward it, but I also need to make sure the electricity stays on in the house and the kids are fed. But, me being me, I tried to take it all on from the middle of January up until about a week ago.

Floored with this horrible chest cold/pneumonia, I didn’t do any freelance work, nor did I do anything with the porn addiction side of things for about a week. I cancelled meetings and podcasts, opting to lay in bed and on the couch. When I sat up to try and even answer basic email, a coughing fit would hit and I’d be back in the horizontal position quickly.

While there was a little bit of withdrawal the first day or two, I have to admit that despite the physical pain, it was nice to only worry about the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right and how long of an afternoon nap I should schedule. My body needed a physical break to recuperate, but my mind needed a mental break as well.

I now see that I need to balance things a little better. I need to make sure enough money is coming through the door for what I need, and I know there is still plenty of time to work on the porn addiction piece of my life without overdoing it. People can wait 24 hours for an email to be answered 99% of the time. The addiction will still be here tomorrow.

As I look to next week, I do so with a renewed focus. I cannot get obsessed with my work, whether it’s completely self-centered money-making tasks or strictly altruistic-based opportunities. Life is about balance and thankfully I’ve been able to spend the last week recalibrating the scales.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – March Edition

So often in recovery, it feels like we’re not supposed to have bad days. The challenges the world throws at us are just opportunities for growth. Succumbing to negativity will only suck you back into your addiction. I think all of this is extreme and I think the best way to battle it is to just sometimes express what’s on your mind…so enjoy this atypical blog post.

  • As many of you know, I wrote a book you should buy six copies of – one for every room in the house, adjust upward or downward as needed. I’ve learned a lot of random stuff about releasing a book, like your friends who claim they’ll buy your book on Amazon don’t realize you can track sales, especially if they’re in a random part of the USA. Did that friend in Bozeman, Montana, say they’d buy a copy yet your best seller rank didn’t improve, and the little section of the sales map in Montana didn’t turn light blue? That friend is a liar. A dirty, illiterate liar.
  • Many libraries don’t actually want books. I’ve offered my book to around 250 libraries. I think 20 have accepted my offer at this point. Most simply don’t respond while a few do say no, offering cryptic messages like, “I don’t think that fits the mission of our collection.” What does that even mean? Your library has a pro-porn addiction mission? That’s not a library, that’s an adult book store!
  • Why do bloggers go to the Swimming Pool or whatever it’s called on Mondays through WordPress and like your comment, but never visit your site? Oh, I get it. It’s so I go look at theirs. So you want me to do what you won’t do for me? I’m on to you. We’re all onto you!
  • There are still a million little libraries in this world. While the Internet has hurt a lot, it’s amazing the amount of towns in New England with under 3,000 people that still have a library. Some are only open 8 hours a week, but it’s nice to see that they’re still there.
  • I totally get how high school teachers can teach the same stuff over and over all day long. I’ve been on a lot of podcasts and told my story many, many times. The story doesn’t change, and I’ve got the Cliff Notes version down to about 30 seconds. I apologize to those hosts who had to deal with me in the beginning when it was a five-minute ramble.
  • I sold fewer books in my immediate area than I was expecting. I don’t know if this is from a lack of media and people don’t know about it yet. I would have thought that at least around here, more people would want to know if they’re name was in the book. There are still many in my immediate vicinity who look down upon me. I would have thought they would have bought one just to badmouth it. I don’t know if this better.
  • Getting the riff to Sleepyhead by Passion Pit stuck in your head when you’re trying to write a blog entry is frustrating. Damn these kids and their music.
  • I still can’t figure out if it’s better to not get a return email about something or to get rejected. Be it a library I’m asking about my book, a podcast or radio show I’m trying to get on or any other first-time contact query, I feel a sting when I get an answer that says “No.” I feel insulted when I get no answer. And if you’re ever going to have a contact section of your website, writing “We get so much email we can’t respond to it all” just makes you sound like a self-important asshole. You may as well just say, “We’re going to rank how important you are. If you don’t hear from us, well, you know where you fall. Now be gone, peasant!”

Ahhhh…I feel better. It would not have been healthy to keep that all inside. Now I’m going to go back to the real work I’m avoiding.