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.

My Time in 12-Step Programs, Part I

I do not actively attend 12-step meetings for any of my addictions at the moment. I explain it away as I’m getting what I need at weekly one-on-one therapy sessions and the sentence-mandated sex offender support group that I attend, also weekly. That’s roughly three hours of talking about my addictions with others and seems to suffice for the time being.

Should things change with my current therapy schedule I would entertain the idea of returning to 12-step meetings, but I would have to find the right group. I think that there are some people wired to take to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous better than others. I’m not really a follower, I’m a leader, which is probably why my favorite 12-step meetings that I felt I got the most out of were the ones when I was chairing the meeting.

I attended my first 12-step meeting at a church in Laguna Beach, California. It was the second or third day I was at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, called Spencer Recovery Center. That facility, across the street from the beach, was a culture shock to me. Several years later I look back and wonder if I was just in such a bad state of mind because of the abuse I’d heaped on myself and the recent arrest or if it really was a bad fit. About a week after being there, I was transferred to their less-intense location in Palm Springs.

While most of my group were heroin addicts who were told to identify as an alcoholic so we wouldn’t be looked at sideways, it was at that AA meeting I first felt like I could identify with other addicts. At Spencer’s Laguna Beach location, it was mostly kids under 25 who were still actively using at the facility (drugs were sent over a fence nightly) who were mandated by a judge or wealthy parents who threatened to cut them off from the money supply if they didn’t get help.

The men in that room at the church were around my age, dressed like I did when I was back home and had varying levels of professional success. It wasn’t much of a leap to assume nobody else at my rehab had served on their local City Council. I could have seen most of these intelligent, middle-aged men at the AA meeting sitting to my left or right on the dais.

I had no intention of saying a word that night – still of the belief I didn’t have a problem – but after listening to them, I spoke up toward the end of the meeting, and told them it was my first meeting and it was the first time I strongly considered the fact I had a problem.  While I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the 12 Steps or readings from The Big Book that night, it was an eye-opener because it let me know that my peer group could be affected.

Once transferred to Palm Springs, I attended AA or NA meetings nightly as part of the overall program. One of the things that was nice about the Palm Springs rehab was that we attended a variety of meetings. I enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie of some and stared at the clock like it was seventh period Algebra in others.

One group I discovered late in my stay was mostly older gentlemen. Only I and maybe two or three others from the rehab had the permission to leave the property to attend on our own. I felt a connection to these men that I didn’t in any other group. This was mostly two dozen guys who I could imagine myself being in 30 years.

The other group I enjoyed was actually Cocaine Anonymous. I’ve only seen the drug a few times in my life and have never tried it. I simply went for the journey to a satellite Betty Ford Center campus so I could say I had the experience of going to Betty Ford and a Cocaine Anonymous meeting.

What I saw in this group was devoid of all others: Joy. The place was packed, easily the largest meeting I attended. Unlike AA, which wants attendees to take things very seriously and only talk about alcohol, this group was up for hearing about anything. Their theory was nobody was JUST a cocaine addict. You had to have other things going on. At the beginning of meetings, when traditional opening readings were done, the audience participated as if we were at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, with a call-and-response routine I couldn’t help but laugh at the first time I heard it. The whole thing had an energy that I could appreciate. I went to the meeting three or four weeks in a row because it was uplifting about all addiction, not because I had a cocaine problem.

After more than two months at the facility, I came home to Maine. I visited three or four different AA groups, but I just didn’t feel the connection. Because of my high-profile arrest, I drove at least 20 miles away from my where I was living, hoping I could truly be anonymous. I never felt a connection to any of the people I met or heard stories from. I could have continued to attend meetings, but after being sober for a longer period than I had been since I was 15 years old, I decided to try it on my own.

Thankfully, I was able to get through it. I read the Big Book a few times, but I’m not sure if that was to maintain sobriety or simply reminisce about my transformative experience in the desert.

Part II Coming Soon