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.

Therapy and Fellowship, not Online Forums, are the Key to Pornography Addiction Recovery

I know anything is possible and there are people who have done it different ways, but I firmly believe that if you are seeking to permanently eliminate your pornography addiction, you can only do it with professional help, often bolstered by the (real-life) interaction with other addicts. Anything short of this and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

You know when you do something that irritates you, but you can’t help it, like letting the dishes pile up in the sink or watching mindless reality TV? I do this with online forums where guys talk to each other about their pornography and masturbation problems.

I find it frustrating because it feels like 95% of these men will never understand that they are statistically unlikely to beat their addiction on their own. Many include “counters” in their signature that show how many days they’ve been without porn or masturbation. It’s rare that they ever get above 20 days. They relapse and relapse and relapse again.

Their solutions?

“I need to try harder. I need to put filters on my computer. I need to try yoga. I need to distract myself when I feel the urge. I need to get out and meet people. I need to turn off my phone. I need to meditate. I need a girlfriend.”

Usually less than a week later, they’re singing the same song. It’s clear that they feel guilt and shame about their addiction, but there are other men like me on the site who have years of recovery who talk about how we got to this point, but almost all of it falls on deaf ears. I sometimes wonder if they want to do something about their addiction, or they want to do just enough to convince themselves they are trying, but somehow they are the special snowflake who is just never going to be able to get into recovery.

There are others who remind me of people who consider themselves political, but really just regurgitate the talking points they hear on TV. These are the ones who try to tell you that they can “re-wire” their brains, but when you ask them about the science behind what they’re doing, they mumble-write something about dopamine and usually admit to not knowing everything, but knowing it’s true, much like climate change deniers.

I can give you a dissertation in how brain chemistry works with addiction, but I’ll save it. Bottom line is you’re never going to rewire yourself out of that childhood trauma causing the addiction.

The lazy, ignorant and stubborn don’t recover. That’s just a fact.

If it’s not one of those things, I think it boils down to fear. Sitting across from a real person, face-to-face, and having a conversation is much different than typing essays on a computer and waiting hours to read equally one-side responses. It’s scary to be that vulnerable and ultimately, intimate, with another person if you’re not used to it.

The main excuse I hear when it comes to avoiding therapy is that somebody doesn’t have the money or the time. First, the time excuse is BS. Send me a copy of your schedule and I’ll find plenty of time for you to get help. You just make it a priority. As for money, there are plenty of mental health treatment programs funded by local, state and national sources that will pay for, or at least help you out, with the cost. In my part of Maine, there’s an agency that covers three counties and offers steep discounts depending on your income. And if you don’t qualify for an income break, your lack of funds is just another excuse. Put your mental health in front of the big movie package on your cable system.

The only other way I’ve seen people recover – and many of these people don’t have loads of pre-existing trauma – is through a form of group therapy. It can be a 12-step group like Sex Addicts Anonymous, a spiritual approach like Recovery Today or a secular approach like SMART. I’ve been to all three and while none were the ultimate answer for me, it’s clear based on the people who are deep into recovery in all three groups that communal fellowship plays a big role in recovery.

I’d still urge people who go this route to get some professional help just to make sure they’re not missing anything, but I am confident that this is a way for some to achieve successful recovery.

This does not mean that blogs like this, online forums and bulletin boards are a communal fellowship approach. They’re not. They exist on a screen, not in real life. I believe that they can be secondary or tertiary levels of support, much like researching in books or watching YouTube videos, but the amount of people failing again and again seems proof enough that anything you find on a computer or telephone screen cannot be the sole solution.

I’ve said this plenty of times: Any route to recovery is the right route to recovery. The key word in that sentence is “recovery” not “any.”

If you’re reading this and you’ve failed again and again and again, it’s time to stop doing what isn’t working and try something new, or step-up and own it: you don’t really want recovery bad enough.

 

Is It a Good Thing I’m Writing So Many Blog Entries Lately? I’m Not So Sure…

This will be my 15th day of posting in a row, and 25th post in 29 days. That’s not much for some, but considering I posted 25 times between January and August this year, it is very much out of the norm for me. My priority in the morning when I wake up is to write something and post it by 1 p.m. EST. It feels like something I have to do, and I’m trying to figure out exactly why.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I believe I’m dealing with a bout of mania. It’s nothing like my “I think I’d like to go to Europe tonight so I’ll pack a bag and drive to the airport” mania of my early 20s, but I can recognize when the usual 6 hours of sleep I need dips down to 4 or 5. Trying to sleep is also rough as I feel like I’ve got three endless loops of thoughts cascading through my head. You know when you get a song stuck in your head? It’s like having several playing at the same time.

Some days – heck, some weeks – I struggle to come up with a topic to write about. Not lately. It’s more about debating which topic is the one for the day. I think this is from the increased speed of my thinking.

I also think I’m avoiding my real work to a degree. I’m in a very slow time of year, so I don’t have to work at break-neck speed to get things done. I like break-neck speed, or at least I like to know that I can fill 4-5 hours a day. In the 10 weeks before I left on my trip in August, I wrote three 25,000-word books and nineteen 500- to 700-word blogs for my clients. I was writing six or seven hours a day, which is a lot. Now, I’m adding about 5,000 words to one of those books and have 4 blogs to write before the end of October. I feel no sense of urgency and the current projects aren’t exactly engrossing. By the way, if anybody has ever wanted to write a book, needs a book edited, wants a book ghostwritten for them, let me know. I’ve written books for a lot of professionals who don’t have the time, like self-help gurus, psychologists, CEOs, etc. Also, short (15,000-25,000 words) biographies are great records of your life to leave behind with your family after you’re gone, and it’s important to get them on paper before your mind starts to slow down. Contact me if you’re interested.

I tell myself that because I have a new book coming out, I’m trying to build my following on here, but really, I think I’ve added 30 new people in the last 6 weeks, and I’ll be lucky if one buys the book. I get a respectable amount of hits based on what I’ve heard from a few bloggers, but people are still hesitant to follow, like and comment on a pornography addiction website. I get it. I probably would have been that way 10 years ago.

My final theory is that I’m just going through a phase where I want a lot of attention. I’ve been wrestling with this idea lately, especially with the new book coming out soon. I struggle to make sense of the crossroads where ego, education, commerce and exploitation meet.

I genuinely have an inner feeling that I’m supposed to not only be sharing my story with people, but also educating them with real data about pornography addiction and lately, I feel a need to spread the message that you can turn your life around. This feels natural to me and feels like a real purpose.

This is why I wrote the first book and why I’ve co-written the second. I didn’t make very much money on the first book. It probably took 200-250 hours to write and edit, then another 50-100 hours to promote it. We are talking about half of minimum wage when it’s all figured out, and because of a dispute I won’t get into here, I didn’t get the bulk of that money. Logically, I know if I wanted money I should drop this porn addiction education thing and focus on finding more freelance work. In fact, the other day, my mother said to me, “You’ve never done anything for the money.” I don’t think it was a compliment, just more of an observation, but it made me feel like even when I make bad choices, I’m not doing it for the almighty dollar.

But, I know enough about this direction I’m heading in to know that the real money isn’t usually made in books, it’s made other ways, like giving speeches and creating betterment programs. Let’s be honest for a second: I’ve got a unique story, I’m willing to share it, I’m good at sharing it and thus far, there has been a willing, if not yet paying, audience to hear it. If I continue to do what I’m doing and if the second book leads to a third and fourth, I continually improve my chances of being able to segue this part of my life into a more professional endeavor. Would I like to do this full-time and make some real money? Of course.

It’s that “of course” answer that then leads me to question myself if I’m approaching the line, or could possibly approach the line of exploiting myself. The reality is, I made poor choices, got very ill, made some horrendous choices, got in serious trouble, then turned my life around and started to try doing good. Just because I’m trying to do good, does that negate the illness, choices and trouble? I have a unique story to share because I did something uniquely horrible. I’m not sure if turning it around makes it uniquely wonderful. And, as an extension of potentially exploiting myself, am I exploiting my victims, or the family and friends who stood by me, or even those who abandoned me?

Buy my new book. Buy my old book. Hire me to write a book, or to give a speech. I just won’t wear a silly hat. That would just be exploitive. I think I’ve covered my bases. See you tomorrow.

 

Of All The People In The World To Teach Me A Valuable Recovery Lesson…

I think there are many components to successful addiction recovery, and that’s why so many people fail. One that many people gloss over, despite the fact it’s preached in 12-step groups, is being available and of service to others. I believe both the kindness of fellow addicts, coupled with my efforts to educate about porn addiction have helped me immensely.

Addicts are selfish. We lie and we take, take, take. To become a selfless person who gives is a massive paradigm shift. This is one of the reasons I tell people that inpatient rehab is important and valuable. While it does keep you away from your drug or bad behavior, it also creates an environment where inner change can happen, and be practiced before returning to the real world.

Early in my recovery, shortly after I returned to freelance journalism, I had an encounter with a recovering alcoholic and drug addict that really stuck with me.

I wrote an article for a recovery website about the history of substance abuse in professional wrestling, tracing the arc of the hard-partying, painkiller-abusing 1970s and ’80s to the radically different modern day with frequent drug testing and much cleaner lifestyles.

One of the reasons I love being a writer is because it allows me access to people I otherwise would never get to talk with, and this was one such time. As a kid, I loved wrestling, but I wasn’t into the guys like Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage who yelled into the microphone. I preferred guys who could talk great smack without raising their voices like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Nick Bockwinkel and especially Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

Roberts has been a poster boy for recovery in wrestling. Among the hardest partiers, it’s amazing he’s still alive. Having essentially spent all of his money on drugs, he was living in squalor in Georgia until seven or eight years ago when fellow wrestler “Diamond” Dallas Page rescued him and put him on a lifestyle regimen that changed things. This journey can be traced in the film “The Resurrection of Jake The Snake” which is a fantastic documentary.

Roberts seemed like a perfect interview subject and while it took a little bit of effort, I was able to connect with him. I admitted to being a huge fan as a kid, as I always do when I interview anybody I admire. It just seems phony for me to pretend I didn’t know his vast body of work.

We talked his recovery for about 20 minutes, and I mentioned that I was very new to recovery. At the time, I was only about three months out of my first rehab and it would be another six before I went to the sex/porn rehab in Texas. I was just really focusing on alcohol at the time.

“You’re taking notes so you got yourself a pen and paper there, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Write down this number,” he told me, giving me a telephone number with a Georgia area code. “That’s my personal cell number. If you ever find yourself struggling. If you’re at the grocery store and you think you’re going to buy beer or if you’re at a bar and you’re having a bad day. Whenever you need to, just call me and we’ll work through it. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a really nice thing to do. Thank you.”

“We gotta stick together if we’re gonna beat this disease,” he said.

A few minutes later, we said our goodbyes.

I never called him. The few times I felt skittish, I was able to get through the moment on my own. Despite still feeling the occasional craving to this day, I’ve never come what I’d say is close to relapsing.

In truth, I would have felt incredibly weird calling him. I know a former wrestler means nothing to 99% of the population, but he had a big impact on me as a kid. His character was the loner who did what he needed to do to survive to the next day. And as it turned out, the real guy was a lot like me, too. Calling on him to help would have been like a football fan calling Joe Montana or a basketball fan calling Michael Jordan. How do you seek help from people you’ve put on pedestals for decades?

Roberts’ kindness and reaching out really touched me. It sticks with me to this day. Somebody who I view as a superstar, but knew the same challenges of recovery as I did, wanted me to know he was there for me if I stumbled. The “bad guy” who once threw a snake at Andre the Giant wanted to help me if I needed it.

Thankfully, I didn’t need the help, but he did teach me a valuable lesson that day.