Your one-minute answer to “Why Don’t Addicts Just Stop?”

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I do podcasts is something along the lines of “When the average person looks at an addict, they can’t understand why the addict doesn’t just stop. Why can’t they?” For someone who doesn’t have the experience of being an addict, it’s a question that makes sense to me. I have no idea how so many things in this world work or why they are the way they are. The best way to find out is to ask, so for all of those who have ever wondered, I provide this 1-minute answer from my appearance on The Come to the Table Podcast.

Even if you’ve heard my story before, I’d urge you to at least listen to the first 20-25 of this episode as it’s a conversation I’ve not had before, touching on my spirituality, upbringing in the church, the modern state of the Catholic Church, and a quirky “would you rather” game.

Always Staying Ahead of the Next Obsession is the New Normal in Recovery

Anybody else feel weird when a repairman is at the house, like you’re not sure just how much of the process you’re supposed to participate in or what proximity you’re supposed to maintain? I’ve got the guy in my mud room right now trying to figure out why my dryer won’t dry and am trying to work from the breakfast bar in my kitchen, but am not getting the regular stuff done, so I figured I’d write an entry to stay busy.

I’ve noticed my mind is trying to find something to glom onto in the last few months and it all seems to have to do with the computer or some kind of communication.

At the end of last year, it was blogging. I was justifying daily entries by saying I was getting more hits than ever and building up my base which could only help me eventually turn the porn addiction writing and educating into a money-making entity, but taking a step back, it was clear that I wasn’t reaching that many people and certainly not very many new people. The reality was, I liked seeing the little bar on the stats page go up and I liked the interaction with people and started to depend on it at much as interaction with people in real life, which I don’t think is healthy.

I’ve been winding down the amount of podcasts I’m doing, too. They are a free means to reach potential readers of my books or people who want to utilize my counseling/advising service, but every one hour podcast you hear probably involves three hours of actual time dedicated to it. I was trying to book 3-5 per week which was taking too much of my time. Thankfully, a couple of very smart people told me that I need to shoot for quality, not quantity. I recognized that I wasn’t really after the attention as I may have been 10 years ago, but just wanted to feel like I was always doing something to push the book. I’ve always confused working smarter with working harder. Balancing those two things is going to be a life-long struggle.

As these things have waned in my life, I found myself introduced to Reddit. First, I found a couple of porn addiction boards, some about addicts and some about partners. I liked being a voice in the conversation, but it was the same conversation over and over and over. Not long after, I was introduced to the “roast” page. I found it hilarious. I’m one of those people who love it when people roast me. I’ve always had a good sense of humor when it came to myself and believe I had a good sense of humor when it came to roasting others. It turns out, I have a gift from God for roasting people. I started to get people up-voting my roasts in the thousands and was told by a few that considering I’d only been on Reddit 10 weeks but had around 50K upvotes, they thought I could be among the fastest in the history of the site to reach a million. This is when I started to take it too seriously. I started finding the “system within the system” realizing that roasting females got more votes and roasting between noon and 4 p.m. EST was best and just overanalyzing the whole thing. I was stopping work mid-project to head over to see if there were new people who needed roasting. So I deactivated my account. It was creatively fun, but again started to show signs of becoming a bit of an obsession — and I didn’t even have a way to explain it away or rationalize it as doing something good.

I started a new diet today because I’ve been eating crap food at all hours and seem to find myself thinking about food more than in the past. My weight isn’t too bad compared to where it’s been in the past before I started a diet, but I’m a good 20-25 pounds more than I should be. My mind should not be a place where Chicken in a Biskit crackers or Cheetos take up any real estate. Hopefully my junk food cravings go away as I lose a few pounds. After all, bikini season is just around the corner.

I guess my point, as I spy the guy starting to reassemble the dryer, is that for recovering addicts like me who can easily turn something new into an obsession, vigilance and analyzing your patterns of behavior is a constant necessity. Yeah, it would be better if I didn’t sucked into something new and want to master it immediately, nor be able to explain why quite often why mastering it was a good thing. But those aren’t the cards I’m playing with and recognize your situation, tendencies, and limitations is a key part of being healthy I’m always learning.

The Third Addiction was Workaholism and I Must Never Forget It

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but in early recovery, I talked a lot about my workaholism with therapists and in different processing groups I was a part of, but somewhere along the way the porn addiction education/advocacy took over and it has largely remained a silent part of my story.

While I was a moderately well-known guy in Maine’s largest high school, I don’t know if I’d cross the line into the word “popular” and like most of my life, don’t think the word “well-liked” would have been applied by many. I was never able to hide my Machiavellian tendencies, but didn’t care. Unlike many who were experiencing their glory years before my eyes, I saw high school as little more than a legal requirement for whatever was next.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.50.25 AMThat changed the day between my junior and senior years of high school when, at 17, I walked into the local newspaper office as an employee for the first time. Unlike working at the baseball card store at the mall or the Burger King on the Maine Turnpike, I didn’t detest going into work. I actually loved it. I started at the bottom rung as a sports clerk and within two years I was handling the beats of writers on the city side when they were on vacation or when the position was vacant. It was somewhat understood they weren’t going to hire a 19-year-old multi-time college dropout for a full-time position.

They walked back that stance when I was 20 and the industry moved to 100% desktop publishing. The software used at the time, QuarkXPress, was not hard for me to pick up, but for those people who had worked decades pasting up columns in the old-school way papers were made, the transition was rough. I was hired full-time to design pages at night while still keeping the technically part-time with full-time hours gig of writing during the day.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.51.37 AMI felt important in the newsroom. I wasn’t among people who made poor decisions and now had to make burgers for Canadian tourists on the turnpike. I also didn’t have to deal with 9-year-old boys who wanted to tell me I was wrong about a baseball card that was made 30 years before they were born. These people didn’t see age and it was empowering. I was expected to deliver as good as the person sitting next to be who had been there 20 years and had a college degree.

Thankfully, I rose to the occasion and tried to work as many hours as possible. I took to design like I took to writing and felt completely in control of my life when I was part of the team putting together the Lewiston Sun Journal. There was no porn addict within those walls. Despite approaching legal drinking age, I didn’t have a beer before my shift, which I can’t say about every shift at Burger King. It’s one of the few jobs I’ve ever had when the boss announced someone could go home early, I’d shoot my hand in the air like Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter.

As the years went by and I grew my resume and climbed up the editing ranks to a point I rarely wrote anymore and was learning the administrative side of things, I always loved the news/publishing industries. Forget no two days being the same. No two hours were the same. I met amazing, sometimes famous people. I experienced things I could have only dreamed about as a kid, I saw government work from the inside and made decisions to help shape how the public received its news. It always felt like I was doing something that mattered.

I launched my magazine in 2009, 16 years after I’d entered the journalism business, despite only being 33 at the time. I had literally spent half my life working at newspaper and magazines and finally had my own.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.52.56 AMI won’t go through the highlights or lowlights of the next four years, but for everything my professional life had provided prior, it was now exponential. I had responsibility like never before, but I loved devoting my life to the professional cause. Over the five years the business existed, we launched another magazine and a film festival. Work became just about the only thing that I defined myself on, which was a shame, because I had the world’s greatest wife and two terrific kids that I didn’t spend enough time with. If they wanted to do something with me, it was usually tagging along to one of my professional commitments.

When things took their real turn for the worse and I full-on began to neglect my mental health, it felt like work betrayed me more than anything. When the magazine was collapsing under its own weight and my lack of business skill, it felt like my world was imploding. Instead of medicating properly with my bipolar medication, I abandoned that and used alcohol and porn to soothe the wounds. Yeah, that sounds stupid in retrospect to me, too.

I think I talked so much about work in early recovery because I was still very fresh from losing my professional life. I knew no matter the outcome of any legal matters, my time creating a product for a local audience was over. One of the first “a-ha!” moments of recovery was recognizing that the only place I ever felt I had control, work, had in fact been an illusion for quite some time. I was a flight attendant on a plane plunging to the ground giving passengers comforting glances while they looked back at me saying, “You genuinely don’t recognize we’re going down, do you?”

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 8.54.41 AMOne of the biggest moments in early recovery was when a friend, a former Hells Angel member who had been kicked out for illegal activity and was essentially hiding from the law at rehab while his pregnant girlfriend half his age tried to kick heroin, brought up the fact I wasn’t the successful businessperson I portrayed myself to be.

It was a bit of a kick in the groin hearing it, but he was right. Had things not turned out the way they did, I would have driven that magazine straight into the ground within about six months. That’s not success and that’s not control. I had both of those for a while, but began lying to myself when they had disappeared.

In the moment, my workaholism probably did more to hurt my family than either of my addictions. I think when it comes to family, one of the most important things is simply showing up and being there. I rarely did this and missed some key moments.

I do have to add that part of my ongoing recovery has been not torching everything to the ground that was connected to my magazine. We did a lot of good work and shared many important stories. We gave awareness to good causes and worked hard to make our community a better place. None of that should be tainted by the horrible way it all ended, although I’m sure for many, it is. Despite that, I’ve shared a few of my favorite covers with you as I don’t think anybody has seen this magazine I often write about.

These days, I don’t define myself on my work, whether it’s the mindless ghostwriting I do for corporate clients or the pornography addiction education route. But I don’t define myself based on the family now either. I try not to define myself at all beyond a man constantly searching for balance.

Assuming this is the last thing I write before Christmas, I wish those who celebrate a Merry Christmas. If you’re in the midst of Hanukkah, enjoy that. Or Kwanza. Or whatever you’re into. Don’t let differences between people define us. There’s enough of that going in the world.

I’m Still Stereotyping Addicts…Are You?

I had a terrific discussion last night with a mental health professional and we talked about the stigmatizing stereotypes around not just pornography addiction, but addiction in general. I recognized that for some addictions, I probably still have a bit of “smartening up” to do.

One of the things I preach whenever I talk to a group or do an interview is that there is no stereotypical porn addict. I was a white-collar, married, father-of-two who was seen as a pillar of the community. Heck, when you think “porn addict,” you probably don’t think of a guy who was awarded the Key to the City. But I know people also don’t think 50-year-old female nurse, or high school art teacher or well-respected dentist, but I met these people and dozens if not hundreds more during my journey.

Do you know who I didn’t meet? The pimply-faced, 19-year-old who is living in mother’s basement who is socially awkward and has never kissed a girl in real life, but I think this is most people’s image of who a porn addict is. I’m sure he’s out there, but I’ve never met him.

We talked about my belief that this kind of stereotyping helped contribute to the opiate/opioid crisis. The drug problem we face today shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are episodes of Dragnet from the late 1970s where they are talking about the dangers of heroin. You can go back to rap music from the late 1980s and early 1990s where they are talking about abusing Vicodin. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. Opiates/opioids were not invented in 2009, yet it only seems like we’ve cared about it for 10 years or so.

Why? I think it’s because we put such a stigma on drug users in the 1980s through many of the anti-drug campaigns. “Just Say No to Drugs” is a good message, but I think my 8-year-old mind also heard, “…because those who say yes to drugs are dangerous and/or bad people.” I believe as a society, we looked down on drug users as being from the wrong side of the tracks. We may have had a distant cousin or a friend-of-a-friend who had a cocaine issue, never imaging how close to home the opiate/opioid epidemic would eventually hit for most people only a couple decades later.

That same decade, we gave a lot of attention to AIDS. It was really the cause of the 1980s, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Thankfully, a ton of money went into research to create drugs like AZT and societal standards, like how donated blood is handled or needle exchanges for IV drug users, changed. Earlier this month, it was the anniversary of Magic Johnson announcing he was HIV positive. Remember when that happened? Many of you are probably too young because it took place November 1991. Everyone thought he’d be dead in a year because up until that point, people died that quickly. Twenty-eight years later, he’s still here. I bring up AIDS because it shows what we can do as a society when we heap attention, money and research on a problem: We can solve it.

It wasn’t until I went to my first inpatient rehab that I actually met heroin users. I met meth users and pill poppers and people whose alcohol addiction made mine seem like a walk in the park. Essentially, I met people who I would have crossed the street to avoid before I got there.

What I recognized was that these were some of the most real people in the world. They didn’t judge me and they helped create a safe space where I could be myself and share my truth. Unlike the people who I dealt with every day in my professional life, they were open and honest and made me feel OK for being who I really was. Luckily, I adapted quickly and changed my attitude about who drug users really were. I needed to meet these people before I could change my mind.

The same is true about those with eating disorders. At the second rehab I was at there were probably 8 women and 1 man in their eating disorder program. Sex/porn addicts have a lot in common with people who suffer with eating disorders. I’ve only had this proven further to me in the fact that this blog about it is the most read entry in the history of this site.

In getting to know several of these women very well, I can tell you that not all of them were stick thin. I don’t think anything they ever saw on TV or in a fashion magazine led them to become the way they were. Some of them could be quite complimentary toward certain parts of their appearance. Getting to know them one-on-one blew apart 95% of the stereotypes I had about women with eating disorders.

I’ve not met any people who need a 12-step group like Codependents Anonymous, but I don’t have the greatest stereotype of codependent people in my head, nor do I about people who end up with video game addiction or a few other maladies out there. The conversation I had last night made me recognize that I still classify certain people a certain way because I just haven’t had the personal interaction with them, yet I’ve had enough interaction with other kinds of people that I should know better by now.

I’m not going to wait until January 1 to start. My November 22 resolution is to stop stereotyping people who suffer from any addiction or behavioral disorder.

The Horrible Truth of How I Ended Up Here

There’s been a lot of positive comments thrown in my direction lately, both here and on the podcasts I share my story. I know a bunch will come when my book comes out. I appreciate all of them and treat them not as fertilizer for my ego, but as an indicator that I’m doing the right thing now. I also realize they come from people who don’t actually know me in my everyday life, despite the fact I may share more here than anywhere else, and that helps keep things in perspective.

I’m going to share a story today that is honest, but may get your scorn instead of sympathy or admiration. I think that people forget just how I ended up here sometimes. It’s not a pleasant story, but it’s one that I have to retell myself every so often.

I shared a more graphic version of this in my first book. I’m going to tone it down quite a bit here and not talk about any specific incident in detail, but I thought it was time to come clean with my readers about what was going on in the weeks and months leading up to my arrest. Trigger warning, I guess. Scummy person warning, I’m sure of.

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After a 20+ year addiction to pornography, I made the fateful leap to the world of online chatrooms in mid-2013. My illness reached a critical point. Cross-addicted with alcohol, suffering the consequences of an ill-timed abandonment of my bipolar disorder medication, growing estranged from my family and watching my professional life begin to crumble, I let myself slide into a place of emotional, mental and physical disrepair unlike I’d experienced.

I told myself I was a victim of the world around me – a world conspiring on all fronts to take me down. As with so many other addictions, when what you’re doing isn’t meeting your self-soothing needs, you up the ante. I abandoned traditional online pornography sites for peer-to-peer webcam sites. This was when rock bottom started to get in sight.

These were not the traditional adult sites where one pays to talk to a stripper or “model.” The one I found was fairly simple: two random users connect via their webcams. If either doesn’t like what they see on their screen, they click “NEXT”.

Men outnumbered women 20-to-1. If you were going to get a woman to stop and talk to you, you’d better be handsome and have something fast to say, or in my case, type. I’ve never had a problem with a quick comment, but I wasn’t going to make the cut in the looks department. I looked as much the haggard late-30s failure as I felt.

Despite the site claiming to have over 40,000 people online at any given time, I noticed several of the same attractive men – the kind I bet women stopped for – popping up on my screen repeatedly. They were always in the same spot, wearing the same clothes, day-after-day. Something wasn’t right.

When the same buff guy bathed in orange light sitting against his couch appeared, I was able to get him to stop and tell me what was going on.

Whoever was actually on the other end of the computer explained I was watching a video. He couldn’t get women to stop to talk to him, so he found a video of a “hot dude” who appeared to be typing on his computer. He said women wouldn’t stop to talk to the real him, but he could probably get one out of five to stop now, and a quarter of those could be convinced to take their clothes off and/or perform a sexual act.

I found a video at a site containing these kinds of catfishing clips he directed me toward. A handsome guy in a white T-shirt and basketball shorts was laying on his bed, typing away. During the 14-minute video, he smiled, waved, made a peace symbol, laughed, pulled his shirt up to show his abs and took his shirt off completely. I isolated all of those moments into individual clips, including the main video, nine minutes of him typing into his laptop. I could play it on a loop for an hour without raising suspicion.

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I’m a project guy. I like to figure out how to get an idea off the ground, fine-tune it, and move on. My life at that point was more about being a fix-it guy, and I don’t play that role well. I was trying to save a business I’d long lost interest in. I was watching relationships with my family fall apart and had no idea how to salvage them. I was over-indulging in pornography and alcohol addictions I’d mostly been able to keep under control for two decades and it was taking a physical and mental toll. Instead of living a life where I was creating things, I was putting Band-Aids all over a balloon that was about to pop.

Then I found that website, learned how to manipulate a video and my warped, decaying mind found a new project. I’m a methodical worker. I experiment, analyze, experiment more, analyze again. I’d already cracked the hard part learning the technical end of being an online groomer. As somebody who interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in my years as a journalist, I had an above-average ability to read people and get them to talk. As a charismatic business owner, I had plenty of techniques to convince people to do what I needed. These are not good skills for a sick person with no sense of boundaries or consequences to possess.

I’d seen how the average guy on one of these sites operates. If they could get a woman to stop, within 30 seconds of talking to them, they’d tell the female to flash their breasts. I could never see how the low success rate of that strategy reaffirmed it as the go-to technique.

I think these are the guys who frequent strip clubs and don’t understand it’s a show. They believe all women are nymphomaniacs just waiting to be commanded to remove their clothes in everyday life. I wasn’t interested in stripper types, who put on a show for money or nymphos, who made things easy for the simpler guys.

I wanted to talk to average, everyday women (or at least as close as I could find on a peer-to-peer cam site) who would hit “NEXT” the moment a guy like that demanded nudity. I wanted to find a woman who believed she’d never do that kind of thing and then figure out the path to push her to get there.

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I still got the NEXT treatment from most women and of those who stopped, if they looked underage, couldn’t hold a conversation for more than three seconds, or immediately steered the conversation toward sex – an indicator that it was probably a video – I’d hit the NEXT button.

The women I wanted to manipulate were never going to comply with a direct request. Much like a sales call when I sold advertising at my magazine, I had to build rapport and trust before I could close. Treating these scenarios like business transactions and not viewing the females on the other end of the computer as people would have been a red flag for me at so many other points in my life. Short of a professional intervention, I don’t know what could have stopped my increasingly poor judgment. I just saw “right” and “wrong” as concepts others lived by, not me.

I claimed to be a struggling model, surviving only by working as a personal trainer. I said I didn’t like training buff guys because they intimidated me. I preferred average women because they were more “real.” Ironic, I guess. Instead of taking a scholarship for college, I wanted to see if I could be a model, which broke my parents’ hearts when I left high school since I graduated second in my class. I said I wasn’t making it as a model and was considering quitting and heading back home.

So, I’ve created a smart, good-looking guy who prefers average girls and is trying to follow his dream, but is getting discouraged…and hasn’t yet said a sexual word. For the kind of women in need of attention on a site like this, you couldn’t build a better guy. At least, I couldn’t.

I made a show of not wanting to share my personal information. Most of them had never encountered a guy who accused them of wanting too much personal information. Many of them would start blurting facts about themselves just to prove I could trust them. I felt so powerful, never appreciating how my sense of good judgment was disappearing more every day.

I could take whatever information they gave me and while we held a conversation on one part of my screen, I’d be figuring everything out I could about them on the other side. If I discovered a lot of photos on Instagram of them as a competitive show jumper, I would somehow introduce a reference to my sister loving horses. If there was a Facebook entry about the third anniversary of their grandmother’s death, I’d casually mention mine died a few weeks earlier, but I couldn’t go home for the funeral. Most people simply don’t realize how much information they share about themselves and how that can lead to a world of other information. How do you think psychics are able to be so accurate?

Inevitably, they’d ask about my modeling and want to see examples. I found a model on the Abercrombie & Fitch website with a passing resemblance. There was another on a lifeguard supplies site who could pass. All I had to do to find these was take a screen capture of the video I was using and drop it into Google Images. When a woman would ask, “Is that really you?” I’d talk about lighting and makeup and how I always look so much worse in real life. They’d uniformly tell me I was wrong.

Along the way, I’d gauge just how much my story was getting them to have feelings. If none were developing, I’d cut my losses and let them go. If I wasn’t successfully manipulating them, my diseased mind saw no reason to continue and I was on to the next, or if it was past 3 a.m. at the point, I’d call it a night. I needed to get my 2-3 hours of sleep before I faced the world that hated me, I told myself.

In November of 2013, a female who popped up on my screen that I told myself looked old enough turned out to be underage. As I did with all of the other women, I took a couple screen shots of her at the end of our session. They were trophies of my accomplishments, not used for sexual gratification, but used to convince myself I had some semblance of control in my life and could reach goals I set. It’s still hard for me understand how I could rationalize that night after night, but I guess there wasn’t a lot of rationalization going on then.

I was informed about her age when the police came knocking at my door in March 2014. They found my folder of “trophies” and were able to establish she was the only one underage. With the way I was thinking then, I probably got lucky, as much as it hurts to recognize that.

I’m at the six-year anniversary of talking to that girl. She’s in her early 20s somewhere now. I hope my transgression didn’t cause any lasting permanent damage. Nobody deserves to be taken advantage of that way, at any age.

My poor choices led me there. It was nobody’s fault except mine. My poor choices also led me here, to create this blog, give the interviews and write my books. Hopefully, at some point in the far future, the good I do in my life now will cosmically, karmically and in-actual-fact, outweigh the harm I did.