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?

*** Have you ever found yourself wondering about the difference between a therapist and a psychologist? How do you know which is the right one for you? Click HERE for a terrific article outlining the differences. ***

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.

Ideas That Have Helped in My Recovery

When I started this blog, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t try to get too far into the science of addiction, nor present the idea that I had the “answer” for anything. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a story to tell that shows one can work hard and conquer their porn demons. I love reading other people’s blogs, especially those people who follow my ramblings. Many of these brave people are in the early stages of recovery, and not just from pornography.

Those first days and weeks are the most difficult. It’s why most people don’t get through them. Unfortunately, too many people view handling an addiction like going on a diet. It’s not like that at all…even if you have a food/eating addiction.

 

Avoid Addiction If It’s Not Too Late

Learning about the brain science is interesting, and will help you understand why addiction is a disease. I disagreed with that assessment for a long time, but once the science was explained to me, it was rather obvious I was using conservative 1950s macho thinking in defining addiction. I don’t delve too much into it on this site because I’ve already done the damage, as have most addicts.

If you’re not addicted to any harmful substance/behavior, I’d urge you to read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It doesn’t go into much on addiction, but explains how and why we develop habits that can lead there. For most of us, our addictions are coping mechanisms to deal with problems we may not be able to easily define. If you can deal with those problems before relief through bad habits is established, you may have the upper hand in the battle with addiction. I was too late to the text, and wonder if it really would have helped anyway. An inclination toward addiction + raging narcissism = nothing was going to stop me.

 

Things I’ve Learned, Advice I Can Offer

Before I digress too far, let me bring it back to the addicts. I can’t tell you what the magic combination of ingredients in your recovery cure are going to be. It’s something that you have to experiment with. Relapse is common and it’s OK…it just means you need to tweak the recipe. Here are some of the things that really helped me maintain what is about now a few months shy of 4 years sobriety.

  • Figure out if you have an addiction to pornography, masturbation, or both. In my case, as most, they went hand-in-hand (total pun intended). A person told me early on that they decided it was OK to masturbate as long as they didn’t look at porn, and it was OK to look at porn as long as they didn’t masturbate. When they couldn’t marry the visual and physical pleasure, it wasn’t the same. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without one of the ingredients. It’s OK, but you don’t generally partake. I think this technique doesn’t actually solve anything, but is a good jumping-off point for people looking to wean themselves from porn and/or masturbation.
  • Understand that a porn addiction is not like a drug or alcohol addiction in some ways, so it demands a different outcome. It’s more like an eating disorder. The goal is not complete abstinence from sexual behavior. It’s about developing a healthy sexuality. I wrote a blog about this concept HERE.
  • Look at cross-addictions and mental health issues. Most addicts have some mental health concerns. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 20, bipolar disorder at 25 and PTSD at 39. I also was a workaholic and an alcoholic. While porn addiction was the lynchpin of my undoing, it was just one of the items on the buffet for me to deal with. Had I only dealt with my porn addiction in recovery, I never would have been successful. I’ve not had a drink since April 1, 2014 and rarely work more than a 30-hour week these days. I’m also diligent with my psych med schedule.
  • Find a group of people to remind you that you’re not alone and you can lean on. There may be multiple groups that fill multiple roles. My family understand me in ways nobody else does. My longtime friends understand me in another way. The friends/providers I’ve met in recovery yet another way. You can’t handle life on your own – your addictions have proven that truth.
  • Removing myself from my situation was the only way to address both my alcohol and porn issues. I was fired from my job following my arrest, so the workaholism took care of itself, but I can honestly say had I not been able to leave Maine and spend 10 weeks in California at Spencer Recovery Centers for alcoholism or 7 weeks in Texas at Sante Center for Healing for my porn addiction, I couldn’t have done it. I needed intense one-on-one and group therapy away from the surroundings that were the petri dish for my sickness. You can read about that HERE.
  • Consequences help. It did not take me long to recognize without the police intervention, I was heading on a road to death. Since that day, I have either been out on bail, incarcerated, or out on probation. With each came a list of consequences should I break the rules. Would it be easy to break the rules? In most cases, yes. But having lost so much and had my life turned upside down, I know what can ACTUALLY happen when an addiction gets out of control. The further penalties I could pay for straying are a huge motivator for staying on the right track.
  • Appreciate this is going to be a life-long battle and try to stay positive. Porn is not the enemy, masturbation is not the enemy, your brain chemistry is not the enemy. There are no enemies in this struggle. It’s going to be hard enough to navigate recovery, you don’t need to hate anything. There’s stuff going on that you need to figure out and it will take a long time…until the day you die. Until recently, I had a 2-hour weekly support group meeting and a 1-hour one-on-one counseling session. My support group was moved to monthly and I’m talking to my counselor about increasing our one-on-ones to two hours. We probably spend 10-15% of our time at this point talking about the specific addictions, but the other 85-90% can be tied to it because I am an addict. Like anybody with a chronic medical condition, I have to stay on top of it or it will become worse.

 

You’re Almost Done Reading, I Promise

I could probably list off another 20 things that help me. Hell, I could probably list another 200. But I could also list 200 things I thought would help me, but didn’t. I know for someone just starting out in recovery hearing those numbers is daunting, but it’s just a little bit every day. You’re either regressing and living in addiction or your progressing and living in recovery.

If there is anything I can say or do to help anybody out there, please don’t hesitate to send me a note. I can’t tell you how to beat this, but I can tell you that there is a path, you just have to find yours.

An Addict’s Mind & Nostalgia

I’m torn about nostalgia. I think every addict has to be.

This morning, I happened upon the movie Trainspotting 2, the sequel to the 1996 film based on Irvine Welsh’s novel. T2 came out earlier this year, so there was roughly 20 years between the movies.

I loved the first film. It was one of those movies that helped me define who I was. It came out when I was 20 and ready to take on the world.

My mindset in 1996 wasn’t that I HOPED to make something WORTHWHILE out of myself. It was that I HAD to make something AMAZING out of myself. I wasn’t going to go the route of my friends who either went to college, joined the military or went straight into the workforce. By 20, I had already quit college twice and had a job in journalism most needed a graduate degree to get. The plan seemed to be working.

I saw it in the theater a few times. I remember seeing it in Boston in early autumn 1996 with a group of my brother’s friends. Despite almost all being freshman scattered throughout the northeast, they were still processing the death of a close friend and this mini-reunion a couple of months into the start of their college experience was part of it.

We all went on a Saturday afternoon. I thought they were would love the independent spirit and brash filmmaking style. While the movie centers around the heroin addiction of its four main characters, Trainspotting was really about slapping the world in the face and doing things by your own rules.

When we left the theater, most of our group in shock. The movie was an assault on their senses and they didn’t see beyond the surface message of heroin will not lead to anything positive. I was shocked by their response, but over the next year or two, I came to understand the identical script we all followed for the first 18 years of our lives was about diverge into a million different stories. Until Facebook came along a decade later, it was the last contact I had with most of these people.

I knew a sequel to Trainspotting had been made, but it did so poorly at the US box office that it never made it to Maine and I just have never got into watching movies on Netflix. The only time I ever watch a movie now is in the morning after I bring my son to school and before I start working. This morning, I was flipping around and Starz was just about to begin the film.

I briefly thought about not watching it. Since I’ve been in recovery and simply matured, I find many of the movies of the early-to-mid 1990s that influenced me no longer hold me captive the way they once did. The films I loved Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, The Usual Suspects and yes, Trainspotting almost always mixed crime with addictive behavior. I think part of the adrenaline that turned me onto those movies back then was the adrenaline that helped stoke my addictions.

Even tamer films like Dazed and Confused feel somehow wrong to watch. The person I once was, who is still a ghost inside of me, remembers making them into more than movies. They all played into my belief I could conquer the world with my own rules. Consequences and repercussions be damned, I was special.

Well, fast-forward 20 years and as it turned out I learned you can’t ignore consequences and repercussions and the only thing trying to make myself appear special did was cause a lot more attention when my inevitable fall happened. Those kids who left the theater with me two decades earlier hadn’t lived nearly as fast or crashed anywhere near as hard. I thought that made them lame back then. Now it’s clear they were just far healthier.

I don’t often read reviews of movies and when I do, it’s only after I see them. I don’t want to be prejudiced going into it, but like reading other people’s takes. After watching T2, and living the life I have, it was fascinating to read the reviews because so few people truly understood what happens to addicts – regardless of their substance or behavior – over 20 years, but the movie nails it.

I won’t provide spoilers, other to say I don’t think it found a big audience because I think you had to be a wild child of 18-25 when the movie came out, lived a life of poor choices and regret, and are now somewhere in your 40s, struggling to just make a go of it. Critics complained the youthful exuberance of the first film was replaced by a melancholy resignation.

The movie uses a few clips from the first film, but largely as points by which to jump into the theme that even nostalgia can’t fix the past. The reckless mission-filled energy is recalled for what it actually was: An aimless escape of real life. Had the characters just learned to cope with real life on its terms back then, they wouldn’t be struggling so hard to do it two decades later.

I loved Trainspotting in 1996, but I can barely watch it because I remember who I was when I fell in love with it. Today, I don’t know if I fell in love with T2, but I appreciate the fact a film was made that didn’t keep its characters in their 20-something mindsets, as many critics would have preferred, but allowed them to age and come to the conclusions we all must arrive at.

We talk about our lives in the past tense and we usually recycle it for more than it was worth at the time. That’s nostalgia. When we recycle it for the lessons it can teach, it’s far more valuable. Sometimes it’s just hard to know the difference.

 

 

In-Patient Rehab was Critical to My Recovery

I’ve heard a lot of people say if you’re not committed to recovery or don’t believe you have a problem in the first place, don’t waste your money on inpatient rehab. I couldn’t disagree more.

When I entered my first facility, Spencer Recovery Center in Laguna Beach, California, I didn’t believe I had a drinking problem at all. A year later, when I arrived at Santé Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, I didn’t understand just how deep my pornography addiction ran. I am proof that you can enter treatment with a negative or misguided mindset and leave with a very different perspective.

If you’re 100% hell-bent on not learning a thing and you can’t wait to keep doing whatever it is that got you there, odds are you’ll be out the door in the first week anyway. I don’t know what nationwide statistics are on people leaving rehab – either on their own or at the request of the facility – but those who have addictions they aren’t going to address don’t last very long.

The process of rehab is simple and worked on me. They tear you down and then they build you up. That’s greatly oversimplifying it, but they provide an outlet by which you can examine your behavior, habits and addictions with little interference from the outside world. The only people you have quality interaction with are medical, psychiatric and counseling professionals, and your fellow patients.

Simply taking a break from the outside world is good for anybody who is having issues with addiction. It’s certainly no vacation, but unplugging from real day-to-day life is crucial. I don’t know how people make intensive outpatient programs work for them. I needed to be away.

Thankfully, my alcohol detox was mild and I didn’t need one from pornography, but I’ve witnessed some people in real pain. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but once they reach the other side, many have told me they feel better than they have in a long time. We can debate the merits of filling these people with new medication, but having a place for the body to rid itself of poison is huge.

Once cleaned out, the real work begins in accepting the addiction. If you’re like me and didn’t think you had an addiction, they’ll work with you to get there with baby steps. First, I was somebody who didn’t always use alcohol wisely. I could accept that. The leap to “problem drinker” wasn’t that far and when I started getting honest with myself I accepted the idea of “functional alcoholic.” Once you recognize there is no “functioning” addict, it’s not hard to arrive at the fact I had an addiction. This process took me about 8-10 days.

I’m not going to go deep into 12-Step mantras here. You can read my blogs here and here about my experiences with them. Simply being around other addicts, both within the walls of the rehab and in the rooms of AA and SAA proved to me I was not alone. Knowing that allowed me to open up and examine how I got to where I did. For me, it was not a fun process, but it was one that was necessary for recovery.

After being stripped emotionally naked, you’re provided with tools and techniques for hopefully overcoming your specific addiction. Some are the same for all addicts while others are tailored to your exact case.  Eventually, you reach a point where you’ve been there a while and feel invigorated. Those who are near the end of their stays at rehab look like some of the healthiest people on earth from my experience. Or, the juxtaposition of how they looked when they arrived is so great, they can’t help but look like new people.

More than the work done in groups or with the professionals, I think the vast majority of my healing came from spending time with fellow patients. In my case, attending programs that also had people with drug problems, eating disorders and other addictions was crucially helpful.

I’ve only been to two rehabs, so I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on the programs and amenities at any other than I’ve attended. I’m sure the staff, facilities, food, etc. vary in quantity and quality all over, along with price. One thing I have noticed with the two places I’ve attended and many others I’ve researched is that when they get individual star reviews on places like Facebook or Google, it’s either 1-star or 5-stars. This means it works, or the person didn’t try. A place with an overall review of 2.5 stars is perfect in my opinion.

My therapist said just before I entered my first rehab, “Don’t just play along. Keep your mind open.” I’m glad I did. I’m one of the few who has not relapsed, but even among those who did, I have to believe that they did get something out of their experience. No, it’s not a cure-all – you still have to leave and face the real world, but I would urge anybody with addiction who has the means to absolutely spend time in an inpatient rehabilitation treatment facility.

 

 

Hating My Vices Is Counterproductive to My Recovery

When I talk about my addiction and recovery with people, I often find them start to attack the substances I developed an addiction with. I think this is a distraction to recovery. It’s blaming something else, instead of taking responsibility for myself. I can’t change history, but I can control my future.

I don’t hate pornography. I don’t hate alcohol. I don’t hate work. I don’t hate anything that can claim me as an addict.

Yeah, I’m an alcoholic, work-obsessed porn addict and yes, I understand and fully subscribe to the idea that I have a disease that needs to be managed. But, I also don’t think the world should be without the things I couldn’t handle just because I couldn’t handle them.

There are plenty of non-addicts who hate porn, and there are plenty of reasons to find the material harmful and distasteful. There are studies that illustrate the harmful effects it can have on the mind, relationships and attitudes toward sex and intimacy. There are also plenty of first-person accounts how porn destroyed people’s lives.

But my battle isn’t against the evils of porn. It’s against the evils of addiction.

I recognized the rush that came with looking at pornography going back to being a pre-teen. The first time I saw it was a lot like the first time I felt the buzz of alcohol at 14 or 15. I knew that I had discovered something special – but as years wore on, I also recognized my compulsion toward it was not similar to those around me and probably not healthy.

But here’s the thing, not managing those compulsions is on me.

My story is one of addiction and recovery, not of railing against an immoral industry. I wouldn’t want any of my loved ones starring in or making porn. It seems like part of the entertainment industry that will chew you up and spit you out. I don’t know if the ratio of happy-to-unhappy porn industry veterans is any different than other forms of entertainment, and anecdotally, I feel like I hear a lot more heartbreaking stories than ones of triumph.

Based on statistics of Internet usage, it’s not like pornography is an underground thing, with some studies suggesting that a quarter of all Internet search engine requests are related to pornography. They’re not all coming from some pimply-faced 19-year-old in his mom’s basement home on a Saturday night. Somebody…many somebodies…are using it, dare I say, the right way?

You may think porn is disgusting, gross and scuzzy or it’s the finest example of our First Amendment in action. I can respect both sides. Debates about porn’s place in our society just derails my message that consuming it can grow into a nasty addiction leading down dark roads.

However, just because there are those of us who can’t handle it doesn’t mean it should be eradicated. Or if it should be eradicated, it shouldn’t be because of us.

Did you know there is a Clutterers Anoymous? Debtors Anonymous? Online Gamers Anonymous? They may seem far-fetched to anyone not in them, but I have a feeling the issues those people cope with and the addictive demons inside of them are cousins of those embedded in my DNA.

That said, I want the right to be a hoarder, go into debt and play online games probably as much as those addicts want the right to look at porn, drink alcohol and work 16 hours a day. Simply because a small group has issues with a substance or behavior does not mean that substance or behavior should be banned – unless it’s already illegal for good reasons, like hard drugs.

If I suddenly started eating nothing but fatty bacon and sausage three meals a day, I’d eventually have a heart attack. Is it the fault of the food? No, it’s the fault of me. The food wasn’t ingested in moderation. I let things get out of control and escalate to dangerous levels. I can’t blame the pig, the butcher, the grocer or the restauranteur who served it to me.

My fight isn’t about porn being immoral, degrading, or evil. That’s a political and social argument that has nothing to do with my recovery.

I don’t hate porn. I hate what I let it do to me.

 

My Time in 12-Step Programs, Part II

Despite the fact I was arrested on underage pornography charges, it took me even longer to appreciate the fact I had issues with pornography as a whole. I avoided the subject of my traditional porn usage – a staple of my life between the ages of 14 and 37 – with the therapist I was seeing while the legal progress proceeded.

Once I was sober, there was still a mighty pull toward pornography. I wasn’t about to access anything on a computer since my bail conditions forbade it and we didn’t have much in the way of cable programming to satisfy any urges I had. It was after several months of this I finally admitted to my wife, therapist and lawyer that if I could find a rehab to help me with the porn issues the way the first helped with my alcoholism, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

About a month later, I went to a facility in Texas, the Sante Center for Healing. It had a much stronger therapy component than Spencer, but it also relied on nightly 12-step meetings. The drug and alcohol addicted residents attended a meeting in one room, those with eating disorders had theirs in another and those labeled sex addicts met in the weight room. Probably half of the residents were cross-addicted, like me, and were welcomed at any meeting.

I found it disappointing we never went to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings outside of the facility since Dallas, just 45 minutes down the road, had plenty. It was just the residents who ran the meetings and depending on the mix of people at a given time, it was fantastic or a waste of time.

The socioeconomic status of Sante was much higher than Spencer. These were people with backgrounds much similar to me and whether someone was 10 years younger or 10 years older, it didn’t seem to matter. There were a few who were there under duress, but they never lasted too long.

During meetings, I found that sticking to readings in the green book, be it working our way through the 12 Steps or reading stories of addicts at the back of the book (it’s the same set-up as every 12-step program book, always based off the AA “Big Book” model), was not holding the attention of the 6-8 people who went to the meetings nightly. It was only at the end of the meeting, when we were allowed to speak that things felt therapeutic for me.

One of my big gripes about 12-step meetings is the lack of discussion. It’s a series of short speeches, and should anybody interrupt, clarify, ask a question or make a comment, there will almost always be that one person who lives their life strictly by the rule of “no cross-talk during meetings” and will not hesitate to call it out. Technically, it’s not cross-talk, but Bill W. was a stockbroker, not an English major.

When I ran the meetings toward the end of my seven-week stay, I decided to put the book down and turn the entire meeting into a discussion group. I’d pick a topic from the text write it at the top of a dry erase board and put four or five discussion questions under it.  I also used the Love Addicts Anonymous program to draw inspiration for the discussions. My biggest rule was that you could ask for feedback, or you could say you don’t want feedback and it was to be respected. Nobody ever shut another person down from what I can remember.

Within a week, our meetings went from 6-8 people to 12-14. All I will take credit for is creating more of a forum for people to talk openly about their issues. A woman with a ketamine problem attended one meeting, because she needed to get it off her chest that she had prostituted herself years earlier. One man told the group about wrestling with a boy 20 years early and it moving into inappropriate areas.

I found that being with this group was more beneficial to understanding my issues with porn than any other. I was able to honestly talk about my porn usage that spun out of control and what may have lead me to porn in the first place. While the group addressed some heavy, heavy stuff, there was a support that I felt had been lacking at almost all of the other 12-step meetings except Cocaine Anonymous.

 

 

 

 

Finding Sex Addict Anonymous meetings in Maine is like finding a needle in a haystack. There is one in my town weekly whereas there are probably a dozen AA meetings daily. When I left Sante, I told my wife that I needed to attend meetings of some sort to remind myself that I was an addict, but it wasn’t more than two weeks that I found myself looking at the clock. I just didn’t gel with the group.

I did find one man who became a quasi-sponsor for my time between visiting the SAA meetings and entering jail about seven months later. Our conversations gave me the drive to stay sober and continue forward with my recovery.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply find another meeting without driving 45 minutes in another direction, and the other groups sounded like they were run by essentially the same people. They did it their way, which worked for them.

I know that I got a lot of out certain 12-step meetings I attended, but I don’t subscribe to their healing powers as many devotees do. I’m not sure how actually successful they are and if they’re any more successful than attempting to abstain cold turkey, seeing a therapist or any other attempt at quitting. The truth is, there is no scientific basis for 12-step programs working and based on their loose structure, there are no reliable stats about success or failure rates.

Much like any religion, there is dogma and rhetoric that I just can’t agree with. I don’t believe I need to admit I’m powerless over alcoholic or pornography. For me, that mindset would just send me deeper into the addictions. In reality, I am the only person who has any power over my actions. If I was powerless, the car wouldn’t drive itself to 12-step meetings.

I begrudge nothing to the people who blindly subscribe to the dogma if it’s working for them. I understand that their recovery must be devoid of fluidity the way that my life must have it. If they stray outside the lines, they’ll fail. If I’m forced into a little box, I’ll fail.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t sobriety, by whatever fashion, the goal? If cold turkey works, that’s great. I’ve met plenty of people who have simply walked away from their addictions. Sure, they great cravings like anyone else, but they were successful. Who am I to begrudge them that? I’ve heard the complaints that some AA meetings are full of “dry drunks” who haven’t learned anything, aren’t different and are just the same people they were, but now don’t drink. To that, I say “Fantastic!” Them changing their lives is a different thing than them not drinking. Even if they are still miserable, there is a physical upside to not imbibing.

My road to recovery had pit stops at various 12-step meetings, all of which I took something from, but I also learned that 12-step meetings were not going to be an ongoing piece of my recovery. Staying away from pornography and staying away from alcohol can only be accomplished if I’m having active, not passive, interactions with others. It helps if they understand addiction, but it’s not necessary.

I would suggest to anybody that is questioning if they have an addiction to attend a 12-step meeting. The worst case scenario is you’ll walk away in legit denial and continue with behavior that is self-destructive. The best case scenario is that you walk away, knowing you genuinely don’t have a problem…but let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be debating attending a meeting if you genuinely didn’t have a problem. I walked away saying, “I’m not alone in my addictions, but right now, this isn’t for me.” That may not seem like a lot, but it was the first step on my recovery journey. For that, I’m grateful for 12-step programs.