Is Porn Addiction a “Real” Addiction? Duh.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Porn addiction can be bad for business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A final perspective

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

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

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

She ended the interview at that point.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the definition of ‘Pornography’?

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

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

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

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

The Miller Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put On Your Clothes

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

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

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

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

‘But I Know It When I See It’

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

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

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

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

My conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

For Addicts, the Best Advice Can Sometimes be the Worst

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** 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.