Tag: Addict

What was inpatient rehab really like? Part I

It’s been nearly a year since I talked about my experience at inpatient rehab, and the positive reaction I got to the last Q&A has made me think it’s probably time to revisit it from a first-person point-of-view deeper than I have before.

This is going to be a multi-part piece as I think it’s worthy of really explaining what rehab is like. I’ll try to stay under 1,000 words per piece.

I’m going to talk about my experience at the second rehab I attended in the summer of 2015, specifically for the pornography addiction. The first facility I attended was in California for alcohol treatment. While it was a transformative experience, it was more about me being alone with my thoughts in the desert vs. any amazing modalities of treatment they provided.

The rehabilitation center I’m talking about, Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was an intense and invaluable experience. I believe that if I had not spent seven weeks in that hot Lone Star State sun I would not be the person I am today.

I’ve said it before, but on paper, rehab shouldn’t work. You shouldn’t be able to take 30-40 very broken people, many of whom are forced into the situation by their family or the law, and get positive results.

There are quite a few rules one must follow. In the case of Sante, you had to be up by 6:30 a.m., at the morning group for 7:30, attend your classes, groups and one-on-one meetings during the day, and be in bed by 11 p.m. Although most of the classes were co-ed, men and women were kept separate for many activities, including meals, and they were not allowed onto each other’s side of the facility where the dorms were. Men and women were also not allowed to be left alone in one-on-one situations.

You were given 15 minutes a day for telephone calls, were not allowed to leave the property except in the rarest of circumstances and all outside media, including magazines and books, were considered contraband. The only connection to outside news we had was a copy of the Dallas Morning News and whatever we were told on the telephone.

The biggest news event that happened while I was there was the national ruling allowing gay marriage. I’m from Maine, so it had been a thing here for a while, but if you’re someone like me who is social liberally and you enjoy watching conservatives squirm in the face of change – which I do – being in the heart of the Bible Belt when that went down was glorious.

I think I didn’t have too rough a transition into the jail environment because in many ways, rehab was a lot like a minimum security prison. Sure, you could walk away, but to where? It was like Alcatraz in the middle of nowhere.

In my circumstance, I had to stay. I was there for the therapy, but my lawyer also thought a treatment completed certificate would go a long way for my legal case. I learned so much about myself, but I had extra incentive to stick around and see things through to the end.

At first, the way they do things seems foreign. In the morning meeting, each person goes around and says who they are, what they are grateful for and what their plan is for the day while the group responds. For instance, I might say,

“Hello, my name is Josh”

“Hi, Josh” the group says back in Stepford Wives unison.

“…and I’m a pornography addict.”

“But you’re so much more,” they say together in a dead montone.

“Yes I am. Today I am grateful for the support of my family.”

“Yes, you are,” they say.

“And today I’m going to work on my listening skills.”

“Yes you will,” they respond, and then the next person goes.

On day one, this seems completely fucking nutty. By day 21, you’re chanting along with the rest of them. Throughout both of my rehabs, I heard a lot of people say they thought that the program was designed as something of a brainwashing exercise. Most counselors or professionals always shrugged it off, but my favorite reaction came from one counselor who agreed.

“Look at the choices you’ve been making. Don’t you think a little brainwashing might be exactly what you need?” he told somebody. I thought it was brilliant.

There was also a section of the morning meeting where people would self-report breaking the rules, or admit to not keeping up a promise. For instance, if I didn’t work on my listening skills, I was supposed to self-report the following day.

The final section of the meeting was confrontations. This was when somebody else would confront you about one of your behaviors and you couldn’t respond for 24 hours. We used the “When You/I Feel” confrontation model.

For instance, I might say, “Michael, when you stop coming to yoga and meditation classes, I feel worried that you’re not taking in the full scope of rehab.”

The next day at the morning meeting, you’re supposed to say if the confrontation fits, or does not fit, and leave it at that.

This caused a little bit of bad blood among certain people and I realized very earlier on that I did not want to confront people. I believed that each of us had a program to work and if somebody didn’t want to put their all into it, or didn’t want to follow their rules, that was on them. One of the counselors there confronted me on this opinion, but I still hold true to it today. Maybe it’s wrong, but unless you’re doing something massively wrong or hurting someone else, it’s not my spot to police you.

 

Everything You Wanted To Know About Being On Probation Without Having to Commit a Crime to Find Out

I’ve shared quite a few stories from jail, but once being locked up was done, my experience with the criminal justice system was hardly over. Jail is really just the middle part. At first you have the court system to wind your way through. That took me 22 months. Then, jail was 6 months. The final part, probation, is 36 months in my case. As of this writing, I’m now less than 10 months away from it being done.

When I was in jail, I learned that many inmates took longer sentences so probation would not be part of their lives upon leaving lock-up. I couldn’t understand why they’d make that decision. Isn’t a month in jail and two years of probation a better deal than three months in jail? At least you’re free.

When I first visited my lawyer, he suggested that we pitch a long-term probationary period of like 8 years to the DA and judge, while trying to keep me out of jail completely. That didn’t happen, and looking back now, I’m glad.

The judge, at your sentencing, also creates the terms of your conditional release, better known as probation. There’s the boilerplate stuff, like no committing other crimes, but then they will tailor things to your specific case. For instance, I was not allowed to move home with my family after jail until I passed a polygraph stating I’d never put my hands on a child. I knew I’d pass it with flying colors, but I still had to live with my parents for about three months after I got out while waiting for it to be scheduled. And while I knew I would pass, I was anxiety-ridden over the possibility of a false positive.

I was also forced to join a weekly sex offenders’ support group. Once I was deemed ready, which took about a year, I was moved to a monthly support group. I’ve grown to enjoy the group, so I’ll probably continue when I’m off probation, but as for now, if I don’t attend this group, which costs $40 per session (that’s $160/monthly in the weekly group – a large amount for some of the guys) I can be put back into jail.

That’s really the thing about probation, while it’s not difficult, there are so many strings attached that it’s like a black cloud hanging over my head. The specter of being sent back to jail always looms.

I first had to report every two weeks to the probation officer who handled sex offenses. He was supposed to have 30 people to oversee, but had closer to 80. After proving I was trustworthy over seven or eight months, I was transferred to a different PO that handled every kind of criminal.

POs are allowed to drop by and do a search of your house at any time. My first PO visited once in the beginning and my second PO did the same. I think their caseloads are just so large that they don’t have the time to make visits to people they don’t believe are at a high risk of recidivism.

My PO only sees me at the office once a month now, and most of the time his only question to me is, “Do you need anything from me this month?” and the answer is no. I’m guessing that they can tell that I am the kind of person who made a terrible mistake, follow the rules they provided me and am not going to be any trouble. I couldn’t just say that in the beginning, I had to prove it to them over time.

Most of the people I came in contact with in jail, and in the waiting room of probation, are there for drug violations that happened while they were on probation. They have a true addiction and despite getting nailed for having drugs at some point, the risk of being put back in jail is nothing compared to the demon of addiction, so they use again. Most who violate their probation are nabbed via a dirty urine test.

These are the people who will take a sentence of three months in jail and no probation instead of one month in jail and two years of probation. If they are not on probation, they can’t violate probation. Most have no interest in curbing their habit, or available support to even try, so skipping probation is the safest way to legally return to their habit. Nobody will be testing their urine.

While it was far worse in the beginning, I still get nervous on the days I go to probation. The PO has the right to determine I did something wrong (even if it’s not illegal for the rest of you) and bring me to jail. I haven’t even come close, but knowing that could happen ruins my day.

I did six months in jail and got three years of probation. Knowing what I know now, if I could have done an extra month in jail for those three years, I would have said yes. It would have meant no nerve-wracking polygraphs, no asking for permission when I want to leave the state, no court-mandated support groups, no $10 monthly fee for simply being on probation, no sick feelings when the first Monday of the month rolls around.

I now feel like I’m just playing out the clock, but much like I breathed a sigh of relief the day I left jail, I’m going to exhale just as deeply my last day of probation.

 

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – September Edition

I just realized I hadn’t written a trivial rantings article for September yet. While I know nobody was waiting for it, I have a lot of random stuff on my mind today, so it’s a pleasant coincidence.

First, I just did the math, and near as I can tell, I have hit the 500 mark in books sold. To the average person, that may not seem like a lot, but when you dig into sites like Amazon and know what it means to be listed #4,505,294 on their best seller list, you’ll understand why the vast majority of books never make it to 100 sales. The book was released on January 10 and my first goal for the year was 200, then it became 365, then it became 500. I don’t think I’m going to set another goal, I’m just going to be grateful for further sales and hope that reading the book is as helpful for people as writing it was for me.

My Internet is going about 10 times slower than usual today. The irritation might be good. It helps me realize just how easy my life is compared to many in this world.

Did you read my book, The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About: How I Let My Pornography Addiction Hurt People and Destroy Relationships? If you didn’t, click the link and go by a couple of copies. They make great gifts and provoke terrific conversations that start with, “Why the hell did you give me this??!!” If you did already buy it or read a free copy, and thought that it was good, can you go give it a review? I’ve been stuck on 9 for some time now and while I understand being hesitant to tell the world you liked the book, I’ve been told that every review exponentially helps Amazon decide how to rank searches.

So I broke my vow of no politics the last two days and I watched the hearings about the sexual harassment/assault charges against the nominee for the Supreme Court. I think I watched because I happened to see a little of his original testimony, and wondered how this story would unfold. Regardless of what I think should or shouldn’t happen, I was really saddened by the divide this country is in socially. I heard somebody on TV say that they think we’re headed toward a cultural civil war and while that may be a little hyperbole, I don’t think it’s far off. There are people in power, and so many more who support them blindly, that believe they are right, you are wrong, end of story and they exist in both political parties. I don’t think this can end well because there’s going to have to be something that brings people back together and aside from all agreeing to put yellow ribbons and American flags on our cars for a few weeks in late September 2001, this country is just getting further apart. I always say when I do podcasts or radio shows that there is no stereotypical porn addict. Well, there is also no stereotypical American. It’s our differences that make us stronger, not the little tribes we feel better belonging to because they parrot our opinions back to us. This also reminded me to return to not watching the news.

A few months back, I wrote about a library in New Hampshire where I was supposed to give a presentation and how the assistant library director had to write me with her tail between her legs apologizing for cancelling. Apparently, the new librarian was worried nobody would attend because it would be an admission they are an addict, despite the fact it’s advertised as an informational talk from a pornography addiction expert. Along with cancelling, the library had my book for over three months at that point and it still wasn’t on the shelf. The assistant librarian said she wanted to read it to make sure there wouldn’t be anything someone objected to in the book. I didn’t get into a semantics discussion over different ideas presented that may not please everyone, especially after she promised it would get on the shelf soon. Two months later…still waiting. If you don’t want my book, that’s fine, but don’t lie.

With the brilliant people at the Onondaga County Library in Syracuse, NY, deciding that my book was fit for their shelves, I am now in 246 verifiable libraries in the world. I still find it odd that New Zealand has more libraries with the book than at least a dozen states in the US. If you’re too cheap to buy my book, you can probably get it from your library or on loan through a library that has it in your state. And if you live in New York City or Los Angeles, complain to them I’m not in the library yet. I really want to get in those two and can’t seem to crack them.

As always, thank you for reading and/or following my blog. I used to write a weekly op-ed for a newspaper I was editor for. I really cherished the thought that my opinions and ideas were getting out to thousands of people who, whether they rejected or embraced what I wrote, at least were considering it. I know I’m dealing in hundreds instead of thousands these days, but nonetheless, thank you for considering my words.

Must I Believe in God to Successfully Battle Pornography Addiction?

There’s a group who I really worry about when it comes to tackling the beast of pornography addiction: Atheists. If you have ever spent more than 10 seconds researching pornography addiction beyond scientific journals, it’s almost impossible to find any first-person testimony that doesn’t heavily rely on a God for redemption from the “sin” of pornography addiction.

Please note, I do not want any of this to come off as religion bashing. If you end up offended, I apologize in advance. I think those who know me recognize I find religion fascinating and mean no harm when I have questions.

I think the message may be getting lost that it is possible to overcome pornography addiction without the help of a higher power.

Defining my spirituality was important during recovery, because I’d never done it before other than to say I was a “non-practicing atheist.” I just never gave religion much thought. It has been at the center of most of the great wars in history and seems like something designed to divide people, and only bring them together if they were like-minded.

I never really appreciated the difference between spirituality and religion. When I finally had time to think about it and deeply reflect, I recognized I’m one of the most faith-filled people I know. I have this almost naïve instinct to believe everything is going to turn out OK. Even if I don’t understand why something is happening the way it is now, one day it will be clear. I take comfort in that concept, but I also recognize it’s not a provable fact.

I also realized that I felt like there is some form of energy out there that serves as a stabilizer. Our world is chaotic, but that’s nothing compared to how the universe operates as a whole. Some kind of balancing energy keeps things in check. We may one day understand it, but we don’t now.

In my book (currently discounted on Amazon) I talk a lot about how there have been many times in my life I’ve stood in front of a crowd with no idea what I was going to say and suddenly could belt out a well-delivered 30-minute speech. Where did this ability come from? I called it “The Universe.”

Suffice to say, I have a spiritual side. I do not, however, have a religious side. I’ve never heard anybody describe their higher power the way I describe mine, and if somebody does read this and it sounds like exactly what like you believe, I don’t want to get together and sing songs about it. My higher power doesn’t need to be worshipped. It doesn’t love. It doesn’t hate. It just is. Us getting together to cheer it on would be a waste of time.

I honestly am envious of people who subscribe to the same God. I assume there is a sense of community in believing the same thing. I just know that we don’t have the same higher power and there isn’t any book written by your higher power that can convince me that you’re right and I’m wrong. I’m actually not interested in who’s right or wrong.

Which Addictions are Sins?

I appreciate those people who very much believe that God has helped them with their pornography addiction problem. If you’re able to syphon off some of the commitment you have to your religion to keep you away from porn, I say more power to you.

If you go through the WordPress search engine, you’ll be besieged with first-person accounts of God delivering people from porn addiction. Try the same thing for cigarette addiction. God hasn’t transformed anyone in that department.

Why porn and not cigarettes?

I think it has to do with the idea that pornography is not an actual addiction. I believe that the religious see it as an affliction, which is different. Cigarette smoking is not seen as morally wrong, whereas porn is a gift from the Devil. I don’t think many people who go to church see cigarette smoking as a sin. It’s a poor choice, but not an affront to God.

Here’s the problem with that conclusion: It’s the same thing. While cigarettes will do additional negative things to your body, the actual addictive nature is exactly the same. The same brain mechanisms that provide dopamine, oxytocin, and the other pleasure-center chemicals are performing the same way whether it’s cigarettes, porn, gambling, drugs or any other addiction.

Want to experience addiction? Turn your fucking phone off and put it in a drawer. I know far too many people who wouldn’t last 10 minutes. We have a world of people addicted to their phone who don’t realize it. Is that the work of the Devil, Apple or is it just something that evolved and has no real religious connection?

We’ve seen porn addiction explode since the Internet was introduced. I would guess that there were probably similar spikes when every home suddenly had a VCR or when adult magazines like Playboy and Penthouse were suddenly available at every corner store. The next explosion will likely have something to do with virtual reality.

Addiction is a physical condition. That’s long been accepted by just about every medical professional. Recently pornography addiction was accepted by the World Health Organization as a diagnosable and treatable condition.

I also don’t see a lot of entries where people turn to God to take care of other physical maladies. God doesn’t perform open heart surgery if you’ve got heart disease or conduct chemotherapy sessions for those who have cancer. Both of those jobs are handled by professionals. Some may pray others get better, but for those with the physical issue, they are not told to seek the guidance of God, and go home.

Healing Without God

You can’t pray away a medical condition. Or, perhaps you can, but those are the very rare miracles. The worse the condition, the less likely you are to get your miracle. This suggests miracles are actually just anomalies on a sliding scale, but we can debate that another day.  As far as medical conditions go, I think pornography addiction is on the more mild side of the spectrum. I know that it was on par with my alcoholism mentally, but the booze did far more damage to me physically.

I understand that pornography addiction could be seen as a “pleasure of the flesh” which is forbidden by most religions, but isn’t that just semantics? Couldn’t we just go down a rabbit hole of dueling religious text passages at this point? I mean, there’s a strong argument for not eating shellfish in the Bible…trying to out-passage each other is a fool’s errand. We’d just both be cherry-picking to strengthen our position. And we wouldn’t reach a middle ground. You never reach a middle ground with religion, hence all of the wars.

Had I gone to the Internet immediately after accepting the fact I was a porn addict, I think that the number of first-person anecdotes about beating porn addiction that involved adherence to a specific God’s rules might have scared me off. I can’t pray to the God my parents dragged me to church to learn about for 17 years because I don’t believe in that God, but apparently he has the market cornered on porn addiction recovery.

That’s bad news for the non-Christians or atheists who are porn addicts and are seeking relief.

I came by these many blogs years into recovery and thankfully it wasn’t in the beginning because I may have felt like I had more of an uphill battle than recovery actually was.

The message needs to be presented that you don’t need to believe in anything that you don’t currently believe in to get better. If God helps, great, but much like driving from New York to Los Angeles, there are many routes to take and yours is no more important or valid than mine.

I figured out my spirituality about two years into recovery. It certainly helped in those first two years despite the fact I wasn’t cognizant of it at the time. But even if you believe in nothing, you can beat porn addiction. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

 

Does committing a crime make someone inherently bad?

When I was arrested, I went from a “good” person to “bad” person in the blink of an eye for many people.  I still wonder if in revising their opinion, they came to the conclusion that while they thought I was a good person, I was always secretly bad or if my illegal act eliminated everything I’d accumulated in the good column. Did the good disappear? Was it ever really there?

Are people inherently good or inherently bad?

Neither. People just are. Social norms, acceptable behavior, laws and regulations all change over time. The behavior of someone in Year 317 or 1317 may seem to stand in stark contrast to modern day behavior labeled as acceptable. Were those people bad and didn’t know better? If we’re so advanced, will the people in 500 or 1000 years after we’re gone be all that more enlightened?

One of the more interesting evolutionary traits of humans (and I’m talking over millions of years, not hundreds) is the increasing need for order, averages and the status quo. We crave to know where to set the bar when it comes to every product, behavior or thought we produce or consume.

People are inherently fearful. They are scared that they will fall outside of their desired norm – and that’s even true of the most alternative anarchist. We go with the crowd, even if that crowd is a minority.

When people are looking through their black and white lenses because shades of gray are scary, I’m reminded of the oft-used phrase, “Hitler loved his dogs.” Can somebody be pure evil if they still love dogs? If the person who is the gold standard of evil has a soft spot for puppies is anybody 100% bad?

Well, no and nobody is 100% good, because again, those are labels that I’m using with my own unique definition. Hitler existed. His behavior has never been accepted as OK. But what if the Nazis won? There’s a good chance we’d be living in a world that looked back on Hitler through very different eyes and reached a very different conclusion about his place in history.

When I was arrested and convicted for my crime, I know that many people took an eraser to all of the things I had ever done that were seen as good. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for and brought awareness to plenty of local causes. I regularly volunteered my time or donated advertising space in my magazine. I made dozens of filmmakers’ dreams come true with the film festival I ran for three years. That all disappeared when I went from being a “good” person in many people’s eyes to a “bad” person because the one act of convincing a teenage girl to masturbate online trumps everything else I’ve ever done.

Should it? It’s not up for me to decide. I accept and live with the punishment I was given. I’ve come to understand what happened and for me, it takes place beyond good and bad. It was more an issue of sick vs. healthy. But I can’t stop people from viewing me as bad.

People are not one-dimensional enough at their core to be inherently anything. Labeling and stereotyping makes things easy. I think it was George Carlin who said something like, “There’s no reason for sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. If you just take a few minutes to get to know somebody, you’ll have legitimate reasons not to like them!”

I want people to like me and I want to feel like I’m contributing something to society. I think I achieved it in my life prior to my arrest, even if I was secretly a porn addict. I want to be seen as good. With what I did, that may never happen for a vast majority, even if I find the cure for cancer.

What’s most important for my recovery is that I know that I once had the capacity to do bad things that most people would never do. I was very sick when I made the decision to talk to women in online chat rooms. Even most sick people don’t do that. Then I made the decision to urge several to take off their clothes. Even more sick people don’t do that. Then I ignored the fact that there were females who might not have yet reached the age of 18, but continued the behavior. We’re now getting into a small number of sick people…but it’s what I was capable of, sick or not.

Does the fact I have the capacity to sink this low make me inherently bad? I think statistics suggest it makes me inherently rare and someone society correctly punished with a jail term and has determined tabs should be kept on for a while through probation. I understand the need for it, I really do.

There is no one-word, conditional-for-the-world-we-live-in-at-this-moment-in-time label that can apply to anyone. If we are inherently anything, it’s complex.

The Day I Truly Entered Recovery from Pornography Addiction Was…

…the day I stopped waiting for other people’s advice or tricks to be the magic bullet solution. I’m now just over 4.5 years sober from porn. I would have told you then that M/O (masturbation/orgasm) was also an issue, but once the porn went away the M/O reduced by 98%. I was a porn addict.

I was in therapy for years long before I ever admitted to my porn addiction, trying to deal with my anxiety and feelings of always being out of place in the world. While it did come to light that I was bipolar, and that was important to contain, I just kept waiting for the piece of advice or the pill that would make my life fall into place and I’d become like all of the other people.

Through my 20+ years of porn addiction and alcoholism, there were certainly times where I was very weak and I know that I certainly did some damage to my pleasure centers by nuking my brain with dopamine, oxytocin and all of those others happy chemicals.

I am grateful for my therapist. She is an amazing guide through my psyche and has helped me connect so many threads that I finally understand the web of who I am, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but she couldn’t have done it without me…and for too long I was waiting for that.

I didn’t know about NoFap or online boards where most guys try to white-knuckle it, or theories like the whole Red Pill thing back when I was in early therapy. I think there are holes to all of those modalities, but if they work for you — actually work — then I think they’re fine because it’s YOU who is making them work.

I sat in a few months worth of Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings mostly listening to men complain about their sexless lives and realized that the only way you’re going to change is if you truly become committed to change.

My therapy moved in a bit of a cognitive behavioral direction and that started to make all the difference. How often do you ask yourself, “Why am I about to do this?” “What is motivating me here?” “Why am I having these feelings?” At one point in my recovery, I was probably doing this 25 times a day. Now, there is a level of muscle memory that has sunk in. Triggers are hardly a bother, for both porn and alcohol.

I’m proof that anybody can beat this thing, but I’m also proof that this isn’t like a broken leg where it just heals on its own, and it’s not like an illness that antibiotics will take care of. It’s not a mental condition that a few pills will contain and nobody is holding back the secret that will make you better.

It’s on you. You need to make the commitment to change. It’s not a desire, it’s not a hope. It’s a commitment. You get your ass up everyday to go to work. You visit your family on holidays. You pay your taxes. You know how to handle commitment. You just have to decide this is worth it and once you take control — well, the hard work has only just started — but at least you’ve taken that legit first step.

Note: I posted this on a message board about porn addiction, but thought it would also fit with what I do on this site. I need to remind people that while they may not end up a pornography addiction expert, they can all end up in recovery.

%d bloggers like this: