Hey, Non-Addicts: Want To Better Understand What Addiction and Recovery Feels Like? Try This!

Just about every addict will inevitably be asked what it feels like to be an addict. For the non-addict, understanding the pull of a substance or behavior is mystifying. Further, the idea of stopping something seems easy to them, but in addiction it’s not. Recovery is tough. While I can’t make you feel exactly what it’s like to be addicted to pornography, or what the recovery has been like for me, I think I have a two-day model that can help get some kind of a handle on addiction and recovery for the non-addict.

Day One

You’ll probably want two days off in a row from school or work to run this experiment. Do not let anybody know you are doing this experiment as it could taint the experience.

The first thing that you’re going to do in the morning is to take your cell phone and turn the volume of the ringer and all of your alerts for texting, social media, etc. to the maximum level. Make it loud! Do not look through your phone. Just turn the volume all the way up.

Then, take a Post-It Note and put it on the face of your phone so you can’t see the screen. You could tape a piece of paper to it as well. The point is to not see the screen, but not make it difficult if you decide you want to see it.

Keep your phone next to you all day. Don’t put it in the other room. Don’t put it in a drawer.

Do not use the phone. The phone is the drug or the addictive behavior. You may not call or text or Tweet or Snapchat or whatever. You may not use the phone.

Every call…every chime…every bell…every whistle that comes from someone else; you must ignore them. No excuses. No “good reasons” to interrupt the experiment…NONE!

You may not borrow another person’s phone, nor try to skate your way around the rules. If you feel like you’re bending or going around the rules, you are. Do not participate in any activity that you would normally use your phone for.

That’s it. Sound easy? For some it may be, but I think for the vast majority willing to try it’s going to be much, much harder than you think.

If you use your phone during the day, you fail. You succumbed. Welcome to the world of the addict.

Day Two

Keep your phone in the same state as Day One. The rules to your phone apply exactly the same as they did yesterday.

Today, though, you can figure out a way to do the things you normally do on your phone…you just can’t use your phone.

If you’re going somewhere and don’t know the way, you can’t use Google Maps. You’ll have to use a real map, or get on another computer and print out a map or write down directions.

If you need to talk to somebody on the phone, find a landline. Find somebody else’s cell phone. Go to the gas station and see if they laugh and ask you “What’s a pay phone?” when you ask to use one.

Need to keep up with social media? Facebook started only for desktop computers. Use that, or a tablet. Like to read books on your phone? Pick up a real book. They’re not that heavy. Want your news? Watch TV like we did in the 1990s.

Today’s exercise is about doing everything you would on your phone, just finding out a different way to do it. Were you able to get through today or did you find it too frustrating and resorted to using your phone? That’s tantamount to a relapse.

Results

Day One should be difficult if you’re like most people who don’t realize just how tethered to their cell phone they really are. I think anyone under 30 or 35 will really have some issues as they’ve been raised in a world where the cell phone is almost an extension of the hand.

The reason I say not to tell people you’re embarking on this experiment is because you want completely normal conditions. You need to get the calls, texts, etc., that you’d normally get. After all, the addict lives in the normal, real world. They can’t tell people not to bother them for two days.

I think most will find it easy at first to leave their phone alone, but by that second phone call, or third text, or fifth snapchat chime, it’s going to feel really rough. You’ll wonder if it’s something important, even though you know it’s a 99.9% chance it’s not. You’re going to want to rip that Post-It Note off the phone to see what you’re missing. There’s a whole world living in that phone that you can’t touch.

That’s the feeling for the addict. There’s a whole world in our addiction that we feel like we have to get our hands on. For those of you who cave and look at your phone, which I think will be most, that relief you feel when you finally give in is the relief the addict feels when they give in to their addiction. You know it’s wrong, you know you lost the battle of wills, and sure there is some guilt and shame, but you just feel so much better.

Day Two is about developing the tools and problem-solving skills to still live your life as richly as possible, but without your cell phone. This is what the addict has to learn to do in recovery. We have to develop a set of tools and skills to cope with the real world without the crutch of our addiction. Some of us use to quell anxiety and stress. Some use to forget trauma. Some just want to escape everything. Now, we have to figure out how to get relief and live life on life’s terms in the real world without our addictive behavior.

Every time you pick up your phone on Day One, you’re active in your addiction. Every time you pick up your phone instead of figuring out another way to do things in Day Two, you’re relapsing.

If anybody reading this is bold enough to try this experiment, I’d love to hear about your results and find out if you better understand what addiction is all about come the morning of Day Three.

If You’re Not Willing to Ask For Help, You’re Not Going to Overcome Addiction

I think there are three basic steps in achieving recovery: 1) Admitting to yourself have a problem, 2) Asking a professional for help, 3) Following through with treatment. I think the second step is the toughest part for most people and where recovery either happens, or doesn’t.

I don’t think admitting you have an addiction problem is difficult. Sure, it’s the first step, and I can only speak for myself, but even with mild denials I provided my brain, I always knew something was different and abnormal with my pornography use and alcohol consumption compared to most people. When I reached the critical point, it was clear something was wrong, even if I had no idea exactly what was going on with me.

Treatment comes in all forms and sizes, but if you follow through with it, you’ll achieve some level of recovery. I have met plenty of people who think they are the special one who can’t recover, but in reality, I have only met one person I ever thought to myself, “I don’t know if they’re constitutionally capable of long-term recovery.” Thankfully, I was wrong. They have been sober for 5 years now. I’ll tell that story in a few days. My point here is that if you are committed to recovery, you will recover. It’s not a complex recipe.

As some of you know, I have a side hustle giving specific one-on-one advice to addicts and/or their loved ones. It’s featured in the ad on the side of the homepage of the website, and you can access it HERE.

I always tell people that it’s a big step they asked me for help, but at the end of the day, I’m not a professional. I’m somebody who can be the first person they talk to who isn’t going to judge and will create a safe space. I can be the person who lets them know what the next several steps could/should be. Talking to me is like easing your toe into the water. It’s asking for help, but the sugar-free, “light” version.

One of the reasons I started this consulting/advisement service is because I know just how hard it is to ask for help. I usually work with someone for 3-6 major interactions (phone calls/skype/email) and it’s all about getting them to recognize they need real help. They can practice telling their story with me and I can get them ready for a therapist or a 12-step meeting. If I can remove any of the fear, it’s not as big a leap to getting the help.

The biggest pushback I get is not in somebody feeling that they don’t have a problem, but feeling that their problem doesn’t rise to the level of needing professional help, or being too proud to take that leap and becoming the kind of person who “has to get help.”

I try to kill both of these birds with one stone. I tell them that if their doctor referred them to cardiologist because of a heart issue, they wouldn’t compare themselves to other heart patients, they’d just go. If you need glasses, you go to the eye doctor. You don’t worry about people with better or worse vision. If you see an oncologist and they give you one year to live, you don’t stop seeing them because they give some people only three months.

I also try to address their pride. I have to admit, I’ve never been a prideful person. It probably has to do with my imposter syndrome. I’ve worn so many masks, pride doesn’t phase me all that much. I think it’s just another mask I never wore. But I’ll point out the fact that Pride, much like Lust, is one of the seven deadly sins. Also, I’ve never heard of anybody on their death bed complain that they didn’t have enough pride or were glad they didn’t ask people for help. The deathbed is for regret and never getting professional help will be a huge regret.

So why do the naysayers point to inpatient rehabs and 12-step groups as having historically low success rates? Having been to a couple, I can tell you that those who are forced to go, either by their family or the law, never actually asked for the help. You can’t skip to step three without step two. I’d guess between 50% and 75% of the people at both my rehabs didn’t want to be there. And if you’re at an AA or NA meeting, watch how many people only show up once or twice — likely pushed by family — or need to have their “court card” signed by the leader at the end of the meeting. A judge told them to be there. They aren’t there because they are seeking help.

As far as the self-imposed stigma of being one of “those people” who are in the minority of asking for professional help, you’re actually in the minority if you aren’t wiling. According to a 2018 study by the Barna Group, 42% of American adults have seen a counselor at some point, 13% are in active therapy and 36% haven’t seen a therapist but are open to it. Not being willing to see a therapist actually makes you one of the few, not many.

You know you have a problem. If you want it bad enough, you can get through the treatment. You just have to be willing to ask for the help. Don’t let fear hold you up.

Do Not Waste Your Time at a Therapist You Feel No Connection With

I just came back from my therapist’s office after our first meeting in nearly a month. We had to cancel an appointment from two weeks ago for whatever reason, and I think it’s been the longest gap between appointments we’ve had since I started seeing her in late March 2014.

She’s not the first therapist I’ve ever had, but she’s the best and I know that I would not have been able to process the boatload of mental health and experiential baggage I brought to the table following my arrest with just anybody else.

The first time I was seen in a formal therapy setting was in 1996, shortly after one of my best friends was killed by a drunk driver. The therapist let me ramble for a few weeks, wrote some stuff down, but after a month or so of grieving, I recognized this guy, at least 30 years my senior, was no help at all. I could have been talking to a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan and got the same feedback.

In 2000, I went back to therapy, with an overall feeling something was wrong. He diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, which was just the tip of the iceberg of diagnoses to come, but I connected with him in a weird way. He was always telling me about his problems, which were way worse than mine. I was 24 at the time and he was probably 15 years older. It seemed like he made many choices in life he wished he could backtrack on, but didn’t have the courage. I saw him for about a year, took about six months off, then saw him for another year. This was around the time I was put on medication for bipolar disorder.

I had another 6-week stint with a therapist around 2005. He mostly wanted to talk about football and I probably wasn’t completely into it either, complaining of general malaise, but unsure what the real issues were and not in a place to delve too deeply.

And while I mostly stayed on my meds, I went almost the next 10 years without seeing a therapist. I had determined that my problems where chemical, not emotional. While the second guy was some help, I told myself that I’d never received that “magic bullet” piece of advice that would turn my life completely around, so clearly therapists didn’t “get me” and it was a waste of time.

I was referred to my current therapist immediately after I was arrested by the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. I learned years later that I wasn’t supposed to end up with her, as I was referred to someone else in her office. As the owner of the practice, she seemed interested in the brief bit she heard of my story and took me on.

I only saw her twice before I went off to rehab for alcoholism. The last thing she said to me was “Do me a favor and give it a chance.” Those words stuck with me and I don’t know if I would have come to terms with being an alcoholic as quickly without that advice.

Early on, the work was intense. I’d see her either twice a week for an hour, or once for two hours. There are benefits and drawbacks to each set-up. We’d talk about things I learned at my two rehabs, go over my mental health history, and talk about how my experiences in life led me to where I was at the time. It was very tough work a lot of the time. I think she’s seen me cry more than anybody else in the last 35 years. Two years after first meeting her, when it was time to do my six months in jail, I was a healthier version of myself than I’d ever been, with her deserving a lot of the credit.

She testified in my favor at the sentencing and visited me in jail. I resumed a steady schedule of therapy upon release and although it was part of my probation conditions, it’s not like I would have stopped seeing her. Off probation now, I’m still not quitting.

As I’ve continued to move in healthier directions, writing books and trying to educate about porn addiction, she’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders and I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to keep going if she didn’t boost me up from time to time.

I read so much about people who are just not connecting with their therapist. I have to admit, I was not always 100% open and honest about everything with my former therapists, so some of the problem was likely me. With my current therapist, I can tell her anything, even things that are uncomfortable and shameful.

I wouldn’t have ever thought a woman who’s only three or four years older than me would be the one I clicked with, but she was the one. Her practice has expanded mightily to several offices over the last few years and despite transitioning most of her client load, she was gracious enough to continue seeing me. That meant a lot as I can’t imagine the time it would take to not only get up to speed with another therapist, but also be lucky enough to make that connection.

If you’re not connecting with your therapist, and you’ve given it four or five sessions, stop wasting your time. Just because they have some letters after their name does not mean they are instantly the perfect one for you. I needed someone who asked a lot of questions and who understands my strange sense of humor. I needed someone who shared a bit about her life, but didn’t make it about her. I didn’t want someone who ended every session with “homework.” I didn’t do my homework in high school, what makes you think I’m going to do it now?

She’s never given me the “magic bullet” piece of advice to change everything for the better. She helped me learn it doesn’t exist. While I don’t need the intense therapy I had early in recovery, it’s reassuring to know we can check-in every 2 or 3 weeks, even if it’s just for chit-chat. Hopefully that will continue for many years to come.

Find a therapist you connect with because it will make a world of difference. It did for me.

Q&A Time: Did Bipolar Disorder Cause My Alcoholism and Porn Addiction

QUESTION: I read your blog on bipolar disorder the other day. Do you think your bipolar disorder caused your porn and alcohol addictions?

ANSWER: I think it certainly played a role. It doesn’t dismiss the fact that I got myself lost in the addictions, but to deny that there wasn’t some influence is ludicrous.

When you’re an addict and have mental health issues, it’s called having co-occurring disorders. It’s not rare. More than half of drug addicts and around 40% of alcoholics have co-occurring disorders. I have not found statistics on porn/sex, gambling or video game addiction.

An important revelation I’ve come to accept during recovery is that everything is connected in our lives.

I became an addict because I had some childhood trauma, which stunted development of certain coping skills. I became an addict because of a rich history of addiction on both sides of my family. I became an addict because I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt so different than my peers. I became an addict because despite being properly educated on the danger, I had a bit of a defiant, curious, pleasure-seeking personality that was open to trying anything.

But then again, maybe all those things happened because of the bipolar disorder, or both.

I have a chicken-and-egg debate with myself about whether I entered the critical phase of addiction because I stopped taking my bipolar medication or whether I stopped taking my bipolar medication because I entered the critical phase of addiction.

At that point, my sleep tumbled to 2-3 hours per night, my relationships with family and business partners grew distant and strained, my physical appearance became of little concern and I eventually stopped caring about almost everything. Was that because I was a critical addict or because I was mentally ill?

I think you’d need a pie chart to graphically represent what led to me being who I was. I don’t know what the biggest piece would have been. Some might have labeled me as an addict, some may have labeled me as mentally ill while others would have just labeled me as somebody they didn’t want to be around because of those other little parts of the pie chart put together. It doesn’t matter really. It was all connected.

As somebody who had already been in and out of therapy for several years prior to accepting my porn and alcohol addictions, I knew that not only would I have to get help for the addictions, but the therapy was going to have to not only continue at a higher frequency, but start exploring my life in a different direction. I needed to learn how to manage my mental health and addictions. I had to have co-occurring solutions to co-occurring disorders.

Sadly, only 7-10 percent of people suffering from co-occurring disorders get help for both simultaneously. Unfortunately, most therapists who deal with the kind of mental health issues that come with bipolar disorder are not schooled in addiction counseling or solutions, and vice versa. At the first rehab I went to for alcoholism, they’d basically start shutting you down if you talked about other facets of mental health.

This question was part of a much larger email from the person who wanted an answer. My final words to them are the final words I’ll write here: In the end, you have to take care of the entire person, but that means simultaneously taking care of a lot of little parts. You’ve got a doctor for your teeth, one for your eyes, one for your general physical health. You see a specialist for your heart, or another specialist if you need an operation. It’s OK to see one therapist for addictions and another for dealing with bipolar. We have a lot to take care of as humans because after all, it’s all connected.

 

———————————————————————————————-

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.