Trading One Addiction for Another is Not Recovery

As many of you know, I have a sister site, where I offer advising services to those who have pornography addiction issues and their partners or family who are trying to learn and cope with the situation. I’ve done this for about a year now and after working with many people, I’m seeing a trend of pornography addicts trading their addiction for another.

In most cases, it’s either a sharp increase in drinking or many additional hours spent playing video games. While you may be able to rationalize that there aren’t as many moral issues (objectification, debate about cheating) with alcohol or video games, they are still addictions with side effects that don’t necessarily exist with porn.

I’m not suggesting for a second to stick with porn. I’m saying that simply moving on to a different addiction is not going to fix anything in the long run, as the addicted brain doesn’t really parse the difference between addictions. It just wants those pleasure chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin.

Why do people drink? When it came to my alcoholism, I can tell you that it was for the exact same reason I used porn: As an escape from real life. I don’t pretend to understand the physiology of how alcohol leads you to getting buzzed or drunk, but that feeling of numbness was what I was after.

Why do people play video games? I’ve never been a video game guy, but it seems to me that the appeal is two-fold. First, like all other addictions, it’s an escape from real life. You’ll never be a cowboy, gangster or professional football player, but today’s games can get you virtually closer than ever before. Second, I think gaming comes with a false sense of accomplishment. Being able to say you finished a game is great, but how does that positively affect reality?

Switching addictions is not recovery. It’s simply falling further into the pit. I’ve talked to a couple of female partners of male porn addicts and while they all seemed worried about the new addictions, especially when it was alcohol, they universally seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that the porn use was gone or greatly dissipated.

I can understand that feeling. I would bet my house that the instances of a partner’s betrayal trauma with alcohol or video game addiction are exponentially lower than they are with sex or pornography. They may still feel neglected by the addict who is drinking to excess or sitting in front of the TV at all hours with a video game controller in his hands, but these addictions don’t feel like the personal attack pornography does.

Addiction is addiction is addiction is addiction. Individual addictions all have their specific physical and psychological side effects. You’ll rot your liver far faster with alcohol than any other addiction, but what’s going on in your mind is largely the same as pornography or video game addiction (or for that matter drug addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction, etc.)

I say congratulations if you’re taming the beast of addiction. I know first-hand that it’s not an easy road, especially in early recovery. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The time I spent with my addictions is now spent on healthy behaviors, but I constantly have to make sure that I’m not slowly and quietly forming other addictions.

Be wary of swapping one addiction for another. At best, it will only slow, not stop, your one-way ticket to rock bottom.

Why Seek Conflict when Recovery is Going So Well?

Revolutionaries change the world. For better or worse, they leave their impact on the political, physical, cultural and/or social environment in ways they may not have even intended. They can be evil like Hitler, gifted like Shakespeare or unknown – like whoever started that goofy dance all the kids are doing where they swing their arms in front of them and behind them while swaying their hips. That said, I know being a revolutionary is absolutely counterproductive to my recovery.

For the first 30 years of my life, I told myself that I was put on Earth to have some kind of long-lasting impact that would be felt by everyone far and wide. By my mid-30s, that level of narcissism had settled as I decided I only needed to be known by everyone in a 25-mile radius around me.

The ironic thing is, I achieved it. Whether it was through my successful regional magazine, a film festival I co-founded or because of serving in local political office, I reached my goal of having just about everybody around me know who I was, and I loved nothing more than when someone came up to me to tell me what a good job I was doing.

I loved it even more though when somebody would come up to me and start an argument. I was the kind of person who, whether you did it to my face, in social media, or the local newspaper, I would dig in my heels and fight you word-for-word until I won whatever battle I thought I was fighting.

I thought I was a revolutionary. Whether it was introducing new ideas to the community in my magazine, discovering new filmmakers or creating city policy, I felt like it was my place to change the world and if that came with conflict, bring it on. I was going to win…or at least convince myself I had.

Today, instead of fashioning myself some sort of regional revolutionary, I actually avoid as much unnecessary conflict as possible. I haven’t had social media for about five years, first as a condition of bail and then probation and I don’t anticipate myself ever going back. I need neither the attention a picture on Instagram will get me, nor the long thread of responses as I argue some political or social point with my “friends.”

I’ve learned that when it comes to this kind of conflict, there is very little that I’m going to be able to do, either about someone’s opinion, or about whatever it is we’re arguing about. I completely understand why there is such support for Donald Trump, and I completely understand why there is such contempt, but I’m not going to get into a discussion about either. Whatever happens with Donald Trump, my opinion has no effect on his decisions and changing someone else’s opinion these days is just about impossible, no matter what facts or statistics you bring to the table, so why bother?

I’ve also become the same way with television and movies. Why do I want to get emotionally involved in something that is going to upset me, whether there’s a positive resolution or not? The other day, I happened upon the reboot of Wife Swap and it didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that it was just about setting the audience up to root for one set of parents over the other, depending on what your beliefs and background are. I don’t want to get upset watching what I think is bad parenting. I don’t want to get upset watching people fail at running restaurants, bars or whatever the premise may be. I also watch far less sports than I once did.

It’s not just “reality” TV. I’ve almost completely turned away from dramatic TV shows and movies. I don’t want to see criminals be put in jail, nor get away with it, even if I know they’re just actors. I don’t want to see people lose loved ones or relationships not work out, even if it’s fake. Unless I’ve seen the movie and TV, so it’s lost its emotional punch, I avoid programming that features conflict as entertainment.

Perhaps this means that I’m running from the world’s problems and great art. At this point in my life, with my recovery going so well for so long, I’m OK with that accusation. Regardless of my opinion about the death penalty or abortion, I’m not going to be marching for or against it. That kind of energy, on either side, isn’t going to help me keep things on an even level. I’d rather see an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond or The Office that I’ve seen 10 times and leaves me feeling amused – or at worse, not feeling anything at all.

I think that I used alcohol and porn to let me escape my need of being a revolutionary, if only momentarily. I used them to bring me down from the emotions I caused – and needed — while creating conflict. When those needs disappear, it’s a lot easier to handle recovery.

‘Radical Acceptance’ Has Been Crucial to My Successful Addiction Recovery

One of the more important tools I developed in recovery has been the practice of radical acceptance. I was once called out for not having any radical acceptance ability when I was in rehab and it forced me to reflect on the accusation.

Several of the residents were allowed to attend an “outside” 12-step meeting, meaning they went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting off the rehab property with regular community members. On their way back, they stopped off at a store and bought candy and energy drinks, which were both forbidden at the rehab. Their car was searched upon return and the contraband was discovered.

The next day, at our large group morning meeting, one of the counselors told us because of the actions of those four residents, all visitor’s passes would be cancelled the following weekend.

A few of the residents who had family or friends visiting got visibly upset and/or angry.

“This is meant to make you all accountable to one another,” the counselor told the group. “It’s a skill you need to develop. If you were in an office and one of your co-workers was flaunting the rules, your co-workers would come together and set them straight.”

I had always thought I had an overdeveloped sense of justice/injustice, and it was going off like a light on top of a firetruck. I couldn’t stand to see many of my friends denied visits with their families.

“Your rationalization is bullshit,” I said loudly.

“What is that, Mr. Shea?” the counselor asked.

“That’s a pathetic rationalization. First, if we were co-workers, that person would get fired. The entire team wouldn’t. Sure, we could complain to the boss about them, but none of us even knew what these guys did. Second, making each other accountable isn’t actually the way the world works. That’s why we have police and the legal system. We don’t punish all of society for one person’s wrongs.”

“Mr. Shea, do you family visiting you?” the counselor asked.

“No, they’re all in California or the northeast. They’re not flying to Texas to see me,” I explained.

“Then why does this particular situation concern you?” she asked.

“Because it’s not fair,” I said. “It’s not fair to the people who have family and friends coming.”

“Yet none of them are talking,” she said. “It’s you, who doesn’t even have a stake in this.”

“Whatever,” I said, and let it go, seething silently.

It kind of bothered me none of the people affected spoke up. It bothered me even more when a few hours later, I saw them joking and laughing with each other – and the counselor who delivered the news. It dawned on me that I was more upset about a situation that had no bearing on me whatsoever, than people who were directly involved. Something didn’t make sense about it.

Later that day, I sought out that counselor and told her that while the (in my eyes) unjust punishment was still bothering me, the others seemed to move on, and I didn’t understand how they could just do that.

She told me that she knew I believed I had a strong sense of justice and injustice, but she recognized it for what it was. It was really about power and control. I disagreed, but she pointed out as long as it was my allies, I was fine with other people in control, but the moment someone had it and I felt threatened, I confused it with injustice.

“You know you’re probably going to see a little jail time for what you did, right?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I explained. “Technically, I already pled guilty, but when I get home, they’ll look at the fact I went here and to another rehab for alcoholism and that I’m in therapy…”

“You’ll probably do 6 to 12 months,” she interrupted.

“My lawyer is hoping for no time,” I said.

“They always hope for that, and I hope you get no time, but if you do, be prepared that there is nothing you can do about it,” she said.

I looked at her somewhat blankly not wanting to admit she was correct.

“Do you know why none of your friends are still freaking out about their visitors? They’ve learned to practice radical acceptance. That’s where sometimes, no matter what happens, you’re not in control and you just have to accept it and move on.”

It took some reflection, but I was able to recognize plenty of times in my life that I tried to manipulate a situation I didn’t want to accept under the guise of injustice. I also recognized how many times I ended up begrudgingly accepting something I couldn’t control, and how when I finally let it go, it rarely stuck with me very long.

As I’ve made my way through recovery, I’ve done a lot of reading about radical acceptance. That counselor simplified the concept. For me, what’s it really about is the pain and suffering that comes from not being in control.

When I don’t let something I can’t control go, I suffer more pain than if I just moved on. Refusing to accept the pain by refusing to let things go just brings additional suffering, and who really wants that?

About eight months after my conversation with the counselor, I got a sentence of nine months (of which I served six.) As the judge was reading her verdict, a bit of a calm came over me. I now knew what my punishment would be, and I was at peace with it because there wasn’t anything I could do about it and it would be a waste of time to try.

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean being lazy. It doesn’t give an excuse to not standing up against the real injustices of the world, but for people who were power-hungry control freaks like I was, it’s a way to gain perspective.

 

Guest Article: Making Early Porn Addiction Recovery Easier

Note From Josh: When Patrick Bailey asked if he could share the following article, I thought it was perfect. Learn more about Patrick, and his extensive health writing, at the end of this article.

By Patrick Bailey
Living in recovery from porn addiction can be a lifelong process full of challenges and wins. There are many emotions attached to your journey and navigating your new lifestyle may feel impossible at times. Luckily, the healthier habits you build over time will become easier as you understand your own behaviors from a psychological standpoint. Treating your journey of recovery with patience and compassion will help you move forward as a happy and fulfilled person who sees an optimistic future ahead.

Stay In Treatment

Contrary to popular belief, treatment is a tool you can use for life, not just from the period where you transition from facing your addiction into the beginning of recovery. In fact, the most successful treatments are ones you can integrate into your new lifestyle for the extra professional support. Rewiring your brain and practicing healthy behaviors is not something you need to go through alone. Because addiction can also impact other unhealthy coping mechanisms, consider holistic treatment or an inpatient approach to start your recovery with the most support. There are plenty of licensed psychologists and inpatient treatment centers available for you to lean on, both at the start of your recovery and throughout your new life.

“Crowd Out” Old Habits

Crowding out your old habits will be the easiest way to move forward from any unhealthy behaviors you’ve relied on in the past. Recovery may seem daunting at first, especially if your entire lifestyle has centered around your porn addiction. There is no shame in working hard to create the new lifestyle you want, and there will be moments where you’ll need to dig deep or ask for help in building a new habit to replace an unhealthy one. These new habits will strengthen over time and your patience will pay off after you’ve practiced filling your world with routines and thinking patterns that fulfill you.
Lean on resources and literature for ideas as you integrate healthy coping mechanisms to address your impulses and desires in ways that work for you.

Build Your Support System

The quality of your support system will help you feel encouraged and far less alone on your journey of recovery. Porn addiction can be isolating as people may not understand your struggles or experiences so far, but you can nurture a strong support system no matter how alone you feel right now. Even one high quality friend or therapist can make all the difference in supporting your healthy lifestyle. Check out hotlines,
support groups in your area, and even peer support advocates who are willing and able to be there as you challenge yourself. Learning to ask for help will be one of the most critical skills you will need to master in order to navigate future challenges, so make the practice a part of your early recovery.

Making recovery from porn addiction easier requires being able to ask for help and connecting yourself with the resources available to support you. Changing your habits can be mentally and emotionally draining, but will pay off in a healthy and fulfilled lifestyle when you find appropriate outlets for your emotions and desires. Living your truth as a recovering addict is a journey that will last for life, so lean on these resources to make your experience positive and manageable.

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.

Compartmentalizing is a Myth

I was reminded today of one of those “a-ha!” moments that came often in early recovery when somebody I work with through my PornAddictCounseling.org site talked about how he always found life easier when he could compartmentalize. It wasn’t until near the end of my stay at inpatient rehab for porn addiction that I realized the concept of compartmentalizing is a lie addicts tell themselves.

My life prior to recovery was all about the façade of compartmentalization. I had my professional life, my political life, my family-at-home life, my extended family life, my addicted life, and the life that existed inside my head.

It got so bad, I was hiding every compartment from every other for no rational reason. For instance, in the six months or so prior to my crash, I began calling bingo numbers at a nursing home near where I worked. Every Tuesday for about 90 minutes, I’d make an excuse to my co-workers that I had to be somewhere, but I never told them where. I never mentioned to my wife and kids that I called the numbers and it wasn’t like I was seeking any kind of attention or accolades for volunteering.

I remember at the time thinking that I just wanted to do something nice as anonymously as I could. Every movement I made professional or politically seemed so calculating, and even those that weren’t probably came across that way, so I just wanted something for myself. I didn’t want the rest of the pieces of my life knowing anything about it.

It was the same way for the pornography, and for the most part, the alcoholism. Except for the final month or two, I never looked at pornography during the day. It was always very late at night, after everybody in my house went to bed. Yes, I drank at lunch, at work social functions, and would drink at home in the evening, but no one compartment of my life saw the drinking in its totality.

The reality is, my addicted life was not a compartment at all. It had to do with the stress of the other compartments. My extended family life compartment had a lot to do with things that existed inside of my head from years earlier. My professional life and political life compartments were escapes from the compartments I didn’t want to deal with.

The truth is, there are no compartments. Instead of looking at life as a series of boxes, each with its own positives and negatives, life is more like a spider web. While two points may seem very far apart, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the path from Point A to Point B.

I was the way I was – and am the way I am today – because of how all of my experiences and thoughts affect one another. Trying to neatly organize them is a fool’s errand. There is no compartmentalization. That’s just a coping mechanism that allowed me to try to turn my life into bite-sized portions that I could easily control. As a whole, I knew I was out of control, but I convinced myself that I could manage the compartments.

The next time you find yourself compartmentalizing, stop and ask yourself what it’s all about and how what you’re doing really affects the other aspects of your life. Everything is connected. We don’t live in a series of several vacuums. Understand, appreciate and deal with the fact that your life is a single entity, not compartments.

My Pornography Addiction was About Power and Control, Not Sex

I probably should have recognized this early in my recovery, but I’ve come to realize that my addiction to pornography was just an extension of who I was at the time: Somebody struggling greatly with a lack of power and control to the point I’d fool myself into believing I had both by almost any means necessary.

I recognize that this comes from the faulty survival skills I developed as a child when I was being babysat everyday by a woman who was mentally unstable. Looking back, I can now recognize the severe obsessive-compulsive disorder she had, along with a handful of other issues that led to an environment of multiple forms of abuse and one where I didn’t feel safe.

My outlook on life then, as it was for most of the next 30 years, was to simply survive to the next day. It didn’t matter how you got there, as long as you made it until tomorrow. Along the way, I developed a variety of coping and escape mechanisms. I’ve only recently realized that they were my ways of maintaining control.

I have been diagnosed with a detachment disorder. I think that developed, along with a lack of empathy, because it was easier to not care about things. Instead of being hurt, if I didn’t have any vested interest in most things or people, it wouldn’t have an effect on me when bad things happened. Detaching was control and control equaled power.

For several years in my late teens and early 20s, I had a daily marijuana habit. I can now see it was my way of taking control of my mind, emotions and thoughts. Yes, it was a dulling of the senses, but it was my choice. For the hours of the day I couldn’t control my natural reaction to things, there were those hours that I could check out – on my terms – with the marijuana.

The two constants for so long were alcohol and pornography. I think the alcohol was like a more socially acceptable form of marijuana at the time. Alcohol was my way of taking control and deadening my nerve endings temporarily so I didn’t have to feel.

When it comes to the pornography addiction, I believe that was more akin to the rest of the way I lived my life. I owned a business so nobody could boss me around. I was on the City Council because I wanted to decide what happened in my town. No matter the political or social issue, I’d be on Facebook advocating for my side and talking down to those who disagreed. I tried to create a world where I was in complete control, but the only person I fooled into thinking that was true was myself.

Pornography wasn’t about naked people doing sexy things so I could relieve myself. It was about controlling the people on the page of the magazine, in the videos, or the film clips on my computer screen. If they weren’t doing exactly what I wanted, I could just skip to the next picture or clip and eventually I’d find someone doing what I wanted. Since I couldn’t really control people in my real life (despite trying) I was able to use porn as surrogate.

When that stopped being enough, I made the transition to chat rooms. A lot of the time, things never even got sexual. I simply enjoyed steering the conversations and getting women to admit things they probably wouldn’t otherwise. If I couldn’t get the woman to acquiesce to my sexual requests, I’d get her to try on clothes, or rearrange furniture in her room…whatever I could do to gain power in my mind. Power equaled control.

I haven’t had much in the way of triggers or cravings with pornography in a long time and I was asking myself exactly what that was the other day. I was wondering if I reached a point of being “recovered” as you can read about in my most recent blog. I think that the relative ease that I am having being away from both porn and alcohol has to do with the fact that I don’t feel the need for power and control the way I once did.

I think my ordeal of getting arrested, going through the court system, spending six months in jail and being on probation for the past three years – not to mention the radical changes in my lifestyle and daily routines – have put me in a place where I know that there is just so much control I can exert over my life, and a lot of it is just out of my hands and none of my concern.

Truth is, I don’t care who the President is. I know they’re making decisions that may or may not affect my life, but whether I like it or not, I have no control, regardless of what I used to write in Facebook diatribes. My opinion about a border wall means nothing, so why fool myself into thinking it does? That’s a waste of energy I can use on healthier things. I can’t control who my daughter dates now that she is a legal adult and trying to force my will on her probably will do more harm than good. If my wife doesn’t cook me dinner, it’s up to me to get it for myself. I can’t control the people and happenings around me, especially when they don’t go the way I wish.

Those people who were depicted in the pornography I consumed were there because they were either making money or because they had deep-seeded issues…probably both. But they were not there with the sole intention of being used by me. That was a fantasy I concocted in my head.

Ironically, now that I’ve admitted my lack of control and power, I feel more in control and powerful than ever because it’s grounded in reality, not fantasy. And with reality, I don’t need the escape hatch of addiction to fool myself.

 

Is it Possible for an Addict to Go From “Recovering” to “Recovered?”

If you’re reading this on the day I wrote it, April 2, 2019, today marks five years of sobriety from alcohol. I also count this as my sobriety date from pornography, although it technically was a few days earlier. If you would have ever told me I’d go five years without either of my nearly life-long addictions, I’d have said it could only happen once I was put in the ground.

I won’t be attending AA to pick up my five-year chip. I believe I took from the program what I could in about six months of attending meetings. One of the things that I questioned at the time, and question even further now with so much sober time behind me, is if their belief that alcoholism is an ongoing disease and people never truly “heal” or completely “recover” is accurate for every addict.

I have no question in my mind that I was addicted to pornography and alcohol. They were my go-to vices when I needed to curb anxiety and stress for two decades. Despite negative consequences and a desire to stop, I didn’t until the law intervened. For me, being told I’d be thrown in jail (first on bail, then on probation) was the incentive I needed to quit.

I’ll admit, the cravings for porn were strong that first year and the cravings for alcohol were just as strong for around three years. Today though, unless I’m writing for this blog or giving an interview on a podcast, thoughts about using are not there. It’s just not a part of my everyday thinking anymore.

I think it’s healthier for me not to attend multiple meetings per week where discussions of alcohol and pornography are the focus. I appreciate the newcomers who are on the verge of falling back into that world of addiction, but I’ve met so many people with long-term sobriety who didn’t take the 12-Step route to know it can be another road to success.

I spent years (and continue to attend) in therapy, learning what happened in my life to contribute to the addictions starting. I have also spent years carefully crafting a new life where my routines are different, my motivations are different and I dutifully pay attention to my mental health.

So, am I still a recovering addict? According to most of the messaging, yes. I’ll never actually “recover”. Can one be an addict yet not actively participate in their addiction, nor having cravings? I’m not sure. Someone who played professional baseball from 1970 to 1984 is not still a baseball player. Someone who stopped smoking in 1997 is not still a smoker. Someone who spent their single life as a womanizer, but remains devoted in marriage is not still a philanderer. So why am I still an alcoholic and a porn addict?

I think the answer for most is, “It’s safer to consider my addiction as an active, living thing instead of a behavior of the past. I’m just one bad choice away from being back there.”

I understand that line of thinking, but aren’t I just one bad choice away from being a heroin user or starting a gambling addiction? We’re all just one bad choice away from ruining our lives, addict or not.

I believe addiction is a disease. It’s been proven by science. But science has also proven there are many diseases that people recover fully from. Is it possible addiction is one of those diseases?

I’m not completely there yet, but I have a feeling at some point, there is going to be an evolution in my mindset from “recovering” to “recovered” and I’m not worried about it being the slippery slope that returns me to the addictions. While I hopefully will always educate and inform about the dangers of addiction, I think the personal danger can dissipate to nearly nothing over time for many people.

Maybe this is just a matter of semantics. We love to label things in our society and we also tend to catastrophize for the worst-case scenario. When I was in rehab, the program was geared the same toward me, who needed only one trip each for alcohol and porn, as it was the person who had been 12 times and never been successful. I realistically probably didn’t need the same level of care that they did.

If constant self-monitoring and keeping your addiction top-of-mind, even after a decade, is what you need to stay sober, then please, fight the daily fight. I don’t want anything I say to dissuade you from continuing on with a program that works for you. I’ll never say that I wasn’t “really” addicted because I don’t need to white-knuckle it day-to-day anymore.

I also think it’s OK if you’re not struggling day-to-day. I don’t think it minimizes your battle and I don’t think you have to apologize for a recovery that the mainstream doesn’t acknowledge. I think it’s actually the place that most addicts strive to arrive at. I’m here, and I’m grateful.