Yes, Recovery Does Get Easier

While porn addiction isn’t exactly a happy topic, I feel like I sometimes tend to be about doom-and-gloom, often specifically looking for negative statistics to show what a problem the addiction is, and will become in our society.

I rarely talk about what it’s like for me today, nearly five years into recovery. For those wondering the big question “Does it ever get easier?” I’m here to tell you that yes, it does, but you have to find the way to make it easier.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about cognitive behavioral therapy. If you have a behavior, even one that reaches an addictive level, I urge you to seek out a therapist who specializes in CBT.

When I was at both of my rehabs, there were the naysayers and people who didn’t want to be there. I remember one time, there was an especially mouth drug addict. He was young and it was clear his parents forced him to be there or he’d get cut off. There are always a few those at every rehab.

“You’re just here to brainwash us!” he once blurted out to a clinician who was running one of our group activities.

He stopped, walked over to the guy, looked him straight in the eye and said one of the most truthful things I’ve ever heard.

“If you’re not here to get your brain washed, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t you think you all need a little bit of brainwashing?” he asked the addict.

A few days later, the anti-brainwasher was kicked out for hooking up with one of the young women he shared his drug of choice with at the facility. It’s funny how it’s never the sex or porn addicts that hook up at these places.

In a nutshell, CBT is self-brainwashing.

The other idea this clinician introduced me to was the concept of the “pre-lapse.” His contention was that once you’re at the stage of relapse, you’re going to engage in your addiction, but if you can nip it in the bud in advance, you’ll never reach relapse stage. There are a series of almost ritualistic thoughts and behaviors most addicts, regardless of the specific addiction, go through prior to using. Once that chain of events begins, it’s hard to derail it.

I learned how to derail the pre-lapse with cognitive behavioral therapy. I used it to tackle both my alcohol and porn problems and although muscle memory has made coping with the addictions easier, I still have CBT in back pocket.

As long as I live and I see an ad for beer on television, I’m going to have the Pavlovian response of thinking it looks tasty. That’s because the first beer or two is tasty. It’s when I feel this way that I pause and remind myself that I’ve never stopped at one or two and can’t stop at one or two, so I can’t have any. That works now. When the pull was harder years ago, I’d start thinking about all of the horrible things I’d done or said when I was drunk and how I never wanted to go down that route again. Eventually, maybe the commercials won’t trigger any response.

With porn, if I see a beautiful woman on TV or in the movies, I’ll sometimes have the immediate thought, “I wonder if she’s done a nude scene.” In years past, that would lead me to one of those celebrity porn websites. Today though, I’m able to pause and ask myself, “What does it matter if she’s done a nude scene? What will I see that I’ve never seen before?” I find that when I boil porn down to its essence, naked people being objectified, I want nothing to do with it.

And whether it’s alcohol or porn, I’m able to look back at the last six years: First, my worst year of addiction, then getting in legal trouble, attending two rehabs and hundreds of hours of therapy, a six-month jail sentence, hurting so many people close to me, almost bankrupting myself all leading to what is today a very isolated, often lonely life. My choices with alcohol and porn led me here and having spent time with addicts, I know I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Reflecting back on these last six years is a quick trick to put any porn or alcohol triggers to rest.

Yes, it’s easier now going into Year 5 of recovery than it was Year 3 and certainly Year 1. For those of you who are in the early stages, don’t fret. Just stick with it. You have control over your actions, even if you need someone to teach you how. Seek out a CBT therapist and make the recovery journey a successful one.

Reflecting on the Third Anniversary of My Time in Jail

It feels a little strange to recognize the anniversary of something that was so life-altering, but tomorrow, January 22, 2019, marks the three-year anniversary of the day I went to jail. I ended up serving 27 weeks which were among the most definitive of my life.

I ended up there because in late 2013, I made the heinous, reprehensible mistake of engaging a teenage girl online in a chat room. It doesn’t matter that I was an alcoholic, off my bipolar meds and generally watching my professional and personal worlds crumble. I made an error in judgment that I would never have made for 99.8% of my life.

The irony is that by the time I was sentenced, I’d spent the better part of two years in intense rehabilitation including two inpatient rehab stints, participation in 12-step groups and frequent one-on-one therapy sessions. The version of me that was sentenced by that judge in 2016 was the healthiest version I’d ever been.

I’m glad that I was healthy when I went to jail. If I had gone before my recovery truly had time to take root, I’m not sure I could have been so reflective with my time there. For me, jail was not hard time because I learned how to keep myself continually occupied. It was however, long time…and I think that’s the point. You get plenty of time to think.

In jail, nobody expects much out of you. You follow a few basic rules and that’s it. For some people, it drives them crazy. They literally pace the pod, taking 25 steps in one direction, turning around, taking 25 more and doing this for hours at a time. Others play cards, wagering their dinnertime desserts just to make things interesting. Meanwhile, others will veg out in front of the television, ironically watching marathons of Cops.

I did a lot of reading and wrote several books, including the one that a publisher picked up last year. I probably averaged 10 hours a day of reading or writing. While it was nice to have the time to get done two things I’d been neglecting for years, I felt a little like Burgess Meredith on that one episode of The Twilight Zone where all he ever wanted to do was be left alone to read, and when his end-of-the-world wish came true, he accidentally stepped on his glasses.

There were many occasions where I would just stop and look around at the other nine or ten men sharing this small space with me and say the words to myself, “I am currently in jail.” It remains as surreal now as it was then. The script my parents wrote for my life and tried to have me internalize at a young age did not include incarceration.

I said earlier I don’t make excuses and try not to minimize nor rationalize my crime. The one caveat I do make is that I know if I had been aware of pornography addiction or had someone called my growing use of pornography in those final years to my attention, I may not have ended up where I did. My addiction – one I never tried to control – led to my going to jail.

For those reading this who think to themselves, “There’s nothing wrong with looking at pornography a couple times a week or a few times a month,” just please recognize, I once held that belief as well. I couldn’t see the evolution from an ongoing addiction to a critical-phase addiction.

I got a lot of time to think about my poor choices and poor health management while I was in jail. You may think it’s impossible that you’ll ever end up there, but I am proof anything is possible when it comes to an insidious addiction. You’ve been warned.

Q&A Time: I’m A Porn Addict. Help.

QUESTION: I’m struggling with this addiction and I need help. What now?

ANSWER: That’s about as direct and to-the-point as you can get. It’s hard to get very specific because I don’t know if you’re looking once-a-week and feel bad about yourself or if this is a daily, multi-hour activity that is starting to stray into extreme or illegal territory. Either way there are some common pieces of advice I’d offer.

First is to find a professional to talk about this with. Depending on where you live there may be Certified Sex Addiction Therapists available. That would be your first choice. Here in Maine, where I live, that is an official licensure designation. If that’s the case where you live, you’ll want to find someone who has expertise with addictions. That can range from LCSWs (licensed clinical social worker) to LMFTs (licensed marriage and family therapist) to CACs (certified addiction counselors).

When you find that therapist, be 100% honest with them. You’re wasting everybody’s time and your money if you are anything less. The therapist will help guide you through you journey, but you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting and lying to them (or yourself) is going to largely render the therapeutic experience as worthless. Also understand you are probably going to bring up a lot more questions before you start with answers. This is all part of the process.

Next, find others who are also suffering from pornography addiction. Share your story with them and listen as they share their story with you. Recognizing you’re not alone, and coming to a sense of community with others like you will help you.

You can find these communities with 12-step groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. If these kinds of support groups are not local to your area, there are online meetings and hundreds of hours of recorded testimony available on YouTube of people talking about this exact subject. If you want to be more interactive, there are a handful of really good message boards out there. I’ve listed a few on the Resources page of this website and I’m sure a simple Google search may yield a few more I don’t know about. The point is, you are not alone in this struggle.

Finally, I’d urge you to learn as much about porn addiction, or addiction in general. There are literally thousands of books that you can find online and countless videos on YouTube that address addiction. I found learning about the scientific side of things helped me understand what I was experiencing at a deeper level.

As addicts, we tend to think that we’re a special snowflake and nobody could possibly understand what is happening with us. The reality is, in most cases, we’re just another statistic. Understanding those statistics, especially ones that had to do with success in recovery, was one of the key steps to me staying on the recovery path.

You must understand that your addiction will not go away overnight. Recovery is a long, hard road with triggers galore in the beginning. While I rarely feel triggers these days, even five years into recovery, they can still happen. You need to develop the tools to deal with them.

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If you liked this Q&A, check out the others HERE

You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start getting help. Click HERE

If you’d like somebody to talk to who has been there about porn addiction, be it yours or someone you love, but aren’t ready to make the leap to get help from the medical community, I can be a great resource. For more information, click HERE

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Documentary Forced Me to Revisit My Use of Porn Movies in the 1990s

Despite taking two different medications for it, I will inevitably wake up in the middle of the night at least twice a week because of my acid reflux, or as I’m told it’s more correctly called, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Usually I’m forced to eat a popsicle and just sit up for an hour or two.

This happened over the weekend. When it happens during the week, I know what shows play in the middle of the night, so I don’t need to peruse the movie channels we have like HBO. On weekends, however, the schedule is all messed up and I usually end up flipping through the movie channels with the remote.

As I was going by, there was a woman in a white lab coat who didn’t quite look like a doctor saying something like, “It was a race to find Patient Zero.” I’m a fan of any epidemic or pandemic documentary, so I stopped.

Then it became quickly clear what this was about. In the late 1990s, adult films followed a trend of being very extreme with what was shown on screen. The industry had a very poor system for testing its workers for communicable disease and all of a sudden, women started testing positive with HIV. Ironically, the doctor who finally instituted a real testing system was a former adult star herself in the 1980s.

I clicked on the info button and found the documentary was called Porndemic and it was recently released.

I quickly asked myself if I should be watching the Showtime documentary. While I didn’t see any nudity in the first few minutes, it still was about pornography. I decided to give it a few more minutes and ended up watching one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in years that I think should be shown in rehabs, in every Sex Addict Anonymous meeting and to anybody who has a porn addiction.

It was the furthest thing from triggering. There was nothing sexy in this film. It profiled a bunch of sad, often mentally ill people who usually had a bunch of other issues, and showed what their reckless behavior and ignoring their own health (both physical and mental) can result in.

It wasn’t an indictment on the industry itself, and it certainly wasn’t designed to be an anti-porn documentary, but the interviews done recently with those people who were stars 20 years ago are borderline tragic.

Most look like they’ve aged 50 years, not 20. A good portion still clearly have issues they can’t deal with and almost all regret being part of the industry. I found these interviews to be more powerful than any anti-porn program I’ve seen. This documentary didn’t attack the industry, it just shows what happens when you’re a part of it.

The late 1990s was when I made the transition from the kind of films these actors were in to Internet pornography. I recognized some of the names and faces. It was actually heartbreaking to see what happened to them. Instead of ending up rich and happy, they’re living in trailer parks, now have dead end jobs and regret so much of what has happened in their lives.

These people turned to porn for escapism, the same reason I did. They were just on the other side of things, and we both ended up having porn radically and negatively affect our lives. We really weren’t all that different back then, and in some ways, even now.

While I wouldn’t want kids to watch this documentary, and it might be difficult if you’re just getting into recovery, I think this film is a power wake-up call to pull the curtain back from what you’re watching if you’re a porn addict. There is a stray body part here or there, but it’s clear the documentarians tried their best to keep it nudity-free.

Patient Zero is eventually found, but not until he infects five or six women. It’s such a sad and scuzzy story that it has evolved my outlook of porn and made it even worse than it previously has been.

I don’t like anti-porn documentaries because its usually crazy people screaming incoherently and that isn’t the way for me to get a message. Allowing these poor, broken souls to share their tales really struck me in the heart. Hearing directly from the people who were involved and where things stand now, it’s tragic in most cases. I think about all of the time I spent watching those movies 20 or 25 years ago with those exact people and feel like I was part of the problem for the first time. I think that’s a good wake-up call for me.

I didn’t care about the real people behind the naked bodies on screen. I didn’t want to think of their real lives when I was watching, just like I didn’t want to think about mine. Now here we all are, 20 years later, and porn destroyed so much for us, and so much of us.

Would anything have changed had I seen this documentary 20 years ago? I have a suspicion the answer could be “Yes.”

Porndemic could be a wake-up call for a lot of people.

 

Q&A Time: What if I Refuse to Say I’m An Addict at a 12-Step Meeting?

QUESTION: I’m 19 years old. I feel like I’m too young to call myself a porn addict and I don’t want to go to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings because they make you say it there. I’m not sure 12-step groups are even for me. What should I do instead?

ANSWER:  I had an AA sponsor in the brief time I was in Palm Springs at rehab who I expressed some of the same qualms about labeling. I also had a problem with the notion that we were to define a higher power however we wanted, yet it was specifically Christian prayers said to open and close the meeting.

He gave me some great advice that I think many of the hardcore AA’ers would have got on his case for saying: “Take what you want, leave the rest at the door. As long as you’re not drinking, you’re in recovery.” I never thought I was powerless over alcohol (or pornography). I made very bad choices for a handful of reasons, but I was always the one steering the ship even if I wanted to pretend otherwise. I had the power to become an addict and I was the one who had the power to pull myself out of it. Claiming to be powerless was the opposite of what I needed to be doing.

I felt similar with Sex Addicts Anonymous. There is just too much putting words in my mouth and telling me how I feel in 12-step groups. I appreciate their structure, understanding many people need precisely that structure to succeed in recovery, but from the opening moments when I’m forced to identify as an addict publicly, there’s a dogma that – probably for the same reasons I’ve never been a fan of organized religion – I had trouble blindly subscribing to, addicted or not. It’s just not my personality. Maybe it’s not yours either.

So, I get where you’re coming from. That said, I’m guessing there is an untold amount of lies, cajoling, manipulating and deceit based in your consumption of pornography in the past. If you’re trying to turn over a new leaf, that’s fantastic, but if you’re going to skip Sex Addicts Anonymous – which may be the exact thing that will help you – you’re losing out on a lot over a word.

Despite the fact I stopped going to 12-step groups, I can see the value in them and think that everybody should try them to see if they are a fit for their recovery. If you think SAA is the answer and identifying yourself as an addict is what’s holding you back, no offense, but a label is a silly reason to not seek help.

Yes, it’s powerful the first time you say the phrase, “I am an addict.” Truth is, I still shudder a little when I think of it. It’s not a label anyone wants to wear.

Whether you have a bad habit, and addiction, a compulsion, an obsession or whatever else you want to call it is far secondary to getting help to fix the issue. By virtue of writing this question to me, you are indicating there is some kind of problem happening.

A big piece of me just wants to say, “Say the word addict, and see what they have to offer.” But if you can’t say the word addict, that’s fine. I don’t think it has anything to do with age, so I’d stop using that as an excuse and figure out the real reason behind your hesitancy to use the word “addict.”

If you can’t get yourself into an SAA room, I urge you to check out the Resources here. I also urge you to consider one-on-one counseling. It is the thing that I credit to ultimately bringing me into a successful recovery.

If SAA isn’t your thing, that’s OK and all hope is not lost. Just keep pursuing recovery. You can have it if you’re committed.


 

If you liked this Q&A, check out the others HERE

You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start getting help. Click HERE

If you’d like somebody to talk to who has been there about porn addiction, be it yours or someone you love, but aren’t ready to make the leap to get help from the medical community, I can be a great resource. For more information, click HERE

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Recognizing small victories is key to my overall addiction recovery

As a pornography addict for 20 years, changing my behaviors and thought patterns was huge, but now I take it for granted and should probably take a moment to recognize how far I’ve come. I think checking in and celebrating the small victories keeps them coming. I truly believe that a big part of addiction is recognizing and eventually overcoming your triggers. Wallowing in, or pretending they don’t exist is not a strategy I want to take.

As I was reflecting on having seen Bohemian Rhapsody last night, I recognized that not only did I not wonder if any of the women in the film had done nude scenes in the past, but that it’s been a long time since that thought entered my brain at any movie. Between 1988 and probably 2016, if I was watching a movie or television show with a beautiful woman, I’d make a note of her name and then run to the Internet at my earliest convenience to see if she’d shown any skin in a different movie.

I’m not a believer that pornography is just made up of the XXX stuff you have to go into a seedy shop to purchase. I believe that if I used mainstream films for the same reason many people used the XXX variety, there really was no difference between us. I think pornography is really about the intention behind the materials and not necessarily the materials themselves.

Even after I entered recovery, I still found myself wondering, but not pursuing information about actresses I’d see. I could probably tell you the nude scenes of every major actress prior to 2015.

To this day, I don’t know exactly how I trained my brain to not think about this stuff when I’m watching TV or at the movies. I did a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy and think that has something to do with it, but in the end, I think it has to do with the fact I denied my pleasure sensors the reward they were seeking. Yes, it was hard to deny myself the visit to the Internet to check out the rest of an actresses’ resume – and there are certain sites that cater to this exact vice making it easy to research – but with enough denying came a lack of the behavior of wondering.

Last night I ran back the list of the last handful of movies I’ve gone to see this year and couldn’t tell you who most of the females in the movies were. This is a huge leap forward.

I’ve noticed that I probably ogle women on the street 90% less than I once did, frankly not even noticing anybody on the sidewalks anymore. I no longer have a craving to read personals ads on Craigslist or Backpage. Strip clubs were never my thing, but the thought of going to one, which I thought of often, doesn’t have a place in my head anymore. I look at the computer and don’t think “porn” anymore. These are all small miracles to be celebrated.

There are tough, stressful days where the thought of a drink or jumping online to look at porn still exist, but they are few and far between. They are also fleeting thoughts, not the obsessions they once were. In the past, if the thought entered my mind, it could only leave by engaging in the addiction.

I’m a work in progress, I always will be, but to those people out there reading who don’t get into recovery because you don’t think your mind can change, I’m proof that it can. For those who are new to recovery and feel like things aren’t changing, stick with it, because they will. Odds are you’ve made some gains and it’s important to pause and recognize them from time to time.

 

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – November edition

I noticed I didn’t have trivial thoughts post for October. Maybe that explains why there are so many rolling around in my head today. Without further ado…

So, depending on when you read this Election Day is either a) over, b) today or c) tomorrow. I’ll be really glad when people pick up their signs on their lawn and go back to be secretive about who they support. Whether you like Trump or not, one thing you’ve got to say for him is that he has galvanized both sides of things. A lot of people will call it a divide, and it is, but at least it’s now out there in the open, for good or bad. I just think lawn signs look tacky and don’t affect my vote in the least. And whether your guys win or not, recognize that come Wednesday, it’s same shit, different day. None of this is going to affect you all that much in the long run.

I’m taking my son to an event on Wednesday where I expect to see a lot of people that I haven’t seen for about 20 years. I’m wondering if I should wear a ball cap and a hood, or shave, or do something to try and throw off my appearance. Despite not seeing these people, I’ve got to believe many know what happened to me about 5 years ago and probably have strong feelings against me because of it. I’m hoping that if someone recognizes me, they just ignore me. It would be bad form to confront me, especially in front of my son, yet that’s the big fear. Telling me off isn’t going to change anything. Next time you decide you’re going to give someone a piece of your mind, think about what you actually achieve. It’s little to nothing.

All of the years I was a journalist, I almost never voted in an election. I didn’t want my objectivity to be swayed one way or another. While I often found one (or both) candidates to be narcissistic assholes I wouldn’t want babysitting my kid, I did so by interviewing them and actually looking at their record. These days, I’ve resumed voting – absentee so I don’t have to show my face at the polls – and I leave the races where I don’t know both candidates blank. It seems safer than to just put a check mark next to the R or the D. What if you vote for the wrong person? It’s safer to vote for nobody.

I hate the leaves changing colors. I hate them falling off trees. I hate raking and I hate that it’s all a harbinger of the death season that is winter. Yet I still live in Maine…

A reminder before you vote. It doesn’t really matter who you vote for because progressives always win. I know conservatives don’t like to hear it, but you only have to take one look at this country to recognize that conservatives do little more than put up speed bumps. Whether it’s slavery, abortion, women’s suffrage, gay marriage, or 101 other issues, the progressive side always wins in the end. The most a conservative can really hope for is to be an obstructionist and win a battle or two until they’re dead because history has proven progressives always win the war. And I say this as someone who doesn’t label himself a progressive, but can honestly view how things work.

I had somebody approach me about writing a guest blog for this site. I’m still working with her on the content, but figured that so many people have given me shots at writing over the years, I may as well return the favor. If anybody else out there reading this wants to do a guest column, just let me know and we’ll figure something out.

Final thought: If you’re a diehard Democrat or Republican, your vote actually counts more if you don’t show up to maintain the status quo. In most elections, you’ll find 38% go Democrat and 38% go Republican. It’s the 24% in the middle who actually make the election count. As a hardcore Democrat or Republican, your job is just to cancel out the vote of the guy on the other side of the street with the equally ridiculous signs. Those people like me, who don’t have a sign on their lawn? We’re the ones who really decide things. It’s nice to play for one of the big teams, but there’s a freedom of being a free agent most will never experience. And one final reminder, you don’t have to vote a certain way or belong to a certain party because your daddy did. There’s a 49.999% chance your daddy was below average. Break the cycle. Think for yourself.