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.

I’m Wondering if Confronting a Bad Choice from My Past is the Right Choice Today

One of my poor choices of the past found me today and I’m still unsure how to handle it.

I feel like I’ve lived a lot of lives in that I’ve really packed plenty into my 43 years. One of my little adventures that people have found among the most interesting was from 1998-2001, when I was a co-owner, promoter and performer with a professional wrestling company that produced shows throughout New England.

I very rarely ever wrestled. I just didn’t have the interest nor commitment to train. I enjoyed writing the scripts and serving as a bad guy “manager” for those wrestlers who were not good at working the crowd. We can get into the pathology of me actively trying to get crowds to boo me another time, but for a short while, I was considered one of the better talkers in the area when it came to eliciting a negative reaction from the audience. I’ve included one of my headshots and a photo where I was trying to help one of my wrestlers to his feet because, well, they’re funny as hell two decades later. I don’t completely shun that time of my life and it’s important to highlight that.

Anyway, this morning I was watching TV and my son was going through old New England wrestling videos on YouTube. Years ago, I had a DVD that showed some of the things I did in wrestling, so he’d seen me before and wasn’t specifically looking for me on there.

He called my attention to a video he found from 1999. It was called “Josh Shay promo” and was one I have never seen and didn’t realize a tape existed. This misspelling of my name in the title kept it in hiding all of these years.

This particular show was not one I promoted. One of the wrestlers who worked for me pulled together a show as a fundraiser for his father, who was well liked in their Rhode Island town and had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Both he and his father asked me to be on the show because they knew that I could rile the crowd up with some dark references to his cancer early in the show. They also knew I wouldn’t have a problem “getting what came to me” at the end of the show when a 300-pound wrestler would jump on me from the top rope, and then the father would run into the ring and put a foot on me to make the pin. It was illogical because neither the father nor I were wrestling, but would send people home happy.

I got to the show about three hours early because I thought Rhode Island was much further. When I ran into my wrestler friend and his dad, we briefly went over the plan and then he told me I could go downstairs to wait at the American Legion hall, because that’s where the “locker room” was set up.

Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 4.57.02 PMIn reality, it was the bar at the Legion hall, and since it was a Sunday afternoon, the bar was open, serving its regular members. The locker room was really the men’s bathroom and the performers stuck to one side of the basement that had a lot of tables and chairs to wait.

Now, I was 23 at the time, but had been drinking – often heavily – for six years at that point. I knew that I’d never performed under the influence before because I was usually heavily involved in the planning of a show. That day, I was just a performer, and didn’t have anything too athletic to attempt, so I figured it was OK if I got a buzz.

Fast-forward three hours – and around 8 beers a couple shots – later and I was far drunker than I intended on getting. When it came time to go upstairs to do my nasty promo, I may have had a little trouble walking…but I don’t remember.

Later I was told that I gave one of the most venom-filled-approaching-inappropriate speeches most had ever heard. The workers appreciated it for its rawness and the crowd was full of genuine disdain…but I don’t remember.

I faintly remember the end of the show, when I took the big splash from the top rope and the father pinned me.

A few times over the next year or two I was reminded of that promo by some of the people who were there and how I probably crossed real-life lines the audience wasn’t ready for. A wrestling crowd expects a live-action stunt-filled cartoon show that doesn’t challenge their values. I heard enough reports that I crossed that line.

So, this morning, my son finds this promo and asks me if I wanted to watch it with him. I hadn’t thought about this show for years, but the entire situation flooded back into my mind in the blink of an eye.

Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 4.56.18 PMI told my son the truth. I was drunk, don’t remember what I said, was told it was too much, and that I think I’d be embarrassed. He took his iPad into his room and watched it alone. He told me later, “That was really pushing it, but you did get a good reaction.”

In the eight or nine hours since that’s happened, I have felt tempted to have him play the video for me, but it gives me a real bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. There I am, in the early years of a drinking problem that would turn into full-blown alcoholism trying to pretend to be an asshole, only to legitimately come across as one.

I like seeing a car crash as much as the next guy, but I don’t know what would happen if I watched this. I’m not afraid I’ll return to drinking…in the three days I’ll be 5 years, 2 months sober. I just don’t want it to be a black cloud over my head for a few days. I could say it might serve as a reminder to stay sober, but I don’t really need those reminders anymore.

There are things that I actively avoid, like a large box full of trophies, plaques and certificates I was given in the few years leading up to my downfall when I was a magazine publisher and city councilor. When I clean the garage and see them, it gives me a sick feeling. I still debate tossing them in the garbage, but it seems almost disrespectful to just throw the Key to the City away.

I don’t think seeing this video would be a real trigger for me, other than seeing something I wish had never happened. If it were someone else, maybe it would be entertaining, but I don’t think there’s any bad drunken behavior of mine that I’d laugh at on video, even it’s 20 years old.

Anyway, it’s certainly not life or death. I’m sure I’ll forget about it in a few days. I’m just surprised that it’s stuck with me all day.

Q&A Time: Reader wonders if he is really a pornography addict

QUESTION: I like to look at a lot of porn on the Internet, but I’m not quite sure I’m addicted. How do I really know?

ANSWER: Well, you’ve come to a porn addiction site to ask a question about something that sounds like you think may be a problem. That’s red flag territory to me. Does it really matter if we call it a bad habit, negative hobby or addiction? “Addict” and “Addiction” are really just labels. There is no blood test to take that comes up “Addict” or “Non-Addict.”

There are variations on what being an addict means to people. I came to the realization I was an addict when I checked off these boxes:

  • A desire to cease my behavior, but an almost unconscious inability to do so.
  • Negative effects of the behavior started having an effect on my regular life, but again, I couldn’t stop.
  • Promising myself to stop the behavior despite seeing the negative effects, and still being unable.
  • The behavior escalated in duration, frequency, and extremeness to meet the needs it once did.
  • Eventual financial, personal, or legal issues arose as a result of my addiction.

You may be in the early stages of addiction, where nobody can see what’s going on except you. You may be in the ongoing stages, where it’s starting to have an effect and people are wondering what’s wrong with you or you could be in the critical phase where things are close to going very bad for you. I was in the last stage and didn’t realize it. I didn’t call myself a true porn addict until more than a year after I was arrested and had stopped using it. For a more in-depth understanding of the phases, click HERE.

If what you need is that label of “Addict” to get some further help and look into it deeper, then by all means, you’re an addict.

If you feel like you can’t stop, or at least limit your behavior and it’s having negative effects, you need to stop this as soon as possible because you can find yourself heading down roads you never thought you would. I ended up engaging a teenage girl in a chatroom. That’s still crazy for me to write. Maybe you don’t get in legal trouble, but what if you reached a point where you couldn’t “finish” with your partner unless you were looking at porn? That’s becoming a bigger problem than ever. What if you lost your job because you were just trying to sneak a peek at work? More than a quarter of people say they have viewed porn at work…a potential addict seems like they’d be in that group.

We haven’t even talked about what the REAL problem is. Porn addiction, like all addiction, is almost always a symptom of something else. It’s a coping mechanism, a masking agent and a survival instinct rolled into one. You may not think there is a deeper problem, but I bet with a handful of therapy sessions, you might start to understand there’s some other stuff going on there.

So…yes, you’re an addict. Go get help. You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start. Click HERE

 

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.

What is the definition of ‘Pornography’?

I read the results of a survey the other day and in the comments section a man said he was first introduced to pornography through HBO. Another said Victoria’s Secret catalogs. My first reaction was, “Hey! That’s not porn!” But if they think it is, am I really in any position to argue?

Throughout my recovery, dealings with the law, writing my book and the vast amount of research I’ve done on the topic in general, I’ve only seen textbook definitions of the word pornography. I have come to the conclusion that pornography is not a “thing” – it’s a concept.

It’s a grand idea that can be delineated 100 different ways. For instance, when I say the word “vehicle” what does that mean to you? We can all agree it has to do with transportation, but our individual definitions lay in the details.

We can probably all agree that pornography involves the depiction of sexual behavior. Beyond that, it gets tricky.

The Miller Test

First, let’s see what the folks in Washington have to say…

Based on past rulings, the federal government and our courts have a very strict interpretation of pornography, which makes almost everything NOT pornography. For something to deemed pornographic, it has to be labeled as obscene.

Obscenity was defined in the 1973 case of Miller v. California. A guy named Miller who ran a porn video business sent out brochures in 1971 that depicted sex acts. A man and his mother got a few in the mail and called the police. After losing by a jury in California, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in his favor 5-4.

What has largely now been accepted as the standard for obscenity is:

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Have you ever seen anything more broadly defined? All this really says to me is that illegal forms of sex – bestiality, underage, necrophilia, etc. – are patently obscene, but you could make an argument for almost anything else not being obscene. When does a smutty romance novel become literature? When does an adult movie become an artsy, independent film?

Much like health care and taxes, the government clearly isn’t going to help us figure out what “pornography” really means.

Put On Your Clothes

Since I was a kid, I always associated sex with nudity. I thought there were only three reasons to be nude: A medical examination, taking a shower or having sex. I was raised in a conservative home where people didn’t walk around naked. My mom would castigate my father for simply making the trek across the hall from their bedroom to the shower in his t-shirt and underwear. We didn’t talk about sex, we didn’t display nudity – and my mom’s reaction to both were the same – so there had to be a connection.

I think my young mind came to the conclusion that if an instance of “real life” nudity didn’t involve a medical exam or taking a shower, then it must fall into the “sex” category.

I think we can agree a strip club has certain sexual connotations. Is it the same thing with a nude beach? Many strip clubs aren’t allowed to go bottomless. So are completely nude people at the beach more sexual because they are displaying their sex organs? Are either of these instances actually pornographic since it’s “real life”?

I bring this up because there is a lot of interpretation that has to take place when one discerns what is or isn’t sexual. I remember watching a film in sixth grade that actually showed the tip of a man’s penis from inside the vagina at the time of ejaculation. Aside from still wondering how they got a tiny camera there, I don’t remember it as particularly sexy. It was clinical, yet it was technically more intimate than any adult film I’ve ever seen.

‘But I Know It When I See It’

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart uttered that oft-used line when declining to define obscenity in a case before the Supreme Court. I think it’s the standard most of us use, but I think in this increasingly complex world, a better definition might need to be created

Some would say that there are levels like “softcore porn” or “hardcore porn” but those are also largely concepts. To me, softcore features either the act or simulated act of intercourse, without showing the actual genital interaction.  But, if you’re watching someone lead a naked man and naked woman who are wearing fetish gear on a leash while another man and woman ride their back…is that softcore or hardcore? No actual sex is being depicted, just an alternative sexual behavior. So is it actually pornography? It seems way more explicit in some ways than people dry-humping on a late-night Cinemax movie, doesn’t it?

I go back to the survey I read the other day. It was conducted by a Christian group, so I expected more conservatism in the answers, but the men who provided comments really opened my eyes to what some consider pornography. Like the nude beach, Cinemax movie or whips-and-chains scenarios, it caused me to really think about what it is when I use the term “pornography.”

Can I just say, “I know it when I see it”? If some guy thinks a Victoria’s Secret catalog is porn, but I think it’s more just a nuisance on my end table…who is right? Penthouse Magazine is more explicit than Playboy, but which one is porn? Both? Neither? Am I indulging in pornography sitting at a strip club, or do I have to be watching on TV or a computer? Does the medium matter? Is it porn if it’s real life vs. digital or printed?

My conclusion

I’ve learned in recovery, the answers to questions that start with Who, What, When, Where or How can give you clues, but the real depth is found in questions that start with Why. Instead of asking myself “What is the definition of pornography?” I started to wonder “Why do I feel the need to define it?”

Then I realized the real answer: It isn’t important. If somebody is an alcoholic, what they had to drink is just a detail. If somebody is a gambling addict, it doesn’t matter if they lost it all on slot machines or sports betting. The kind of pornography – and if it reached the point that it met my eventual definition – somebody is addicted to has nothing to do with whether they should be given help.

Pornography addicts need help. By that point, what they looked at to reach addict status isn’t important (unless it is illegal). Further, only they can determine what they must stay away from in the future. I can’t go into online chatrooms, but you can fill my house with Victoria’s Secret catalogs. The opposite may be true of the guy who took that survey. We both identify as having a problem and have sought help.

If you think you’re an addict but are unsure, I hope the hesitancy is more about the effects on your life and not what it is you’re consuming. In rehab, I heard stories from some men that curled my toes and others that made me wonder what they were doing there. It was wrong to judge like that. We were all pornography addicts, regardless of what the definition is of “pornography.”

I’d be interested in hearing what other people think. Do you have a hard-and-fast definition?

 

 

Ideas That Have Helped in My Recovery

When I started this blog, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t try to get too far into the science of addiction, nor present the idea that I had the “answer” for anything. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a story to tell that shows one can work hard and conquer their porn demons. I love reading other people’s blogs, especially those people who follow my ramblings. Many of these brave people are in the early stages of recovery, and not just from pornography.

Those first days and weeks are the most difficult. It’s why most people don’t get through them. Unfortunately, too many people view handling an addiction like going on a diet. It’s not like that at all…even if you have a food/eating addiction.

 

Avoid Addiction If It’s Not Too Late

Learning about the brain science is interesting, and will help you understand why addiction is a disease. I disagreed with that assessment for a long time, but once the science was explained to me, it was rather obvious I was using conservative 1950s macho thinking in defining addiction. I don’t delve too much into it on this site because I’ve already done the damage, as have most addicts.

If you’re not addicted to any harmful substance/behavior, I’d urge you to read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It doesn’t go into much on addiction, but explains how and why we develop habits that can lead there. For most of us, our addictions are coping mechanisms to deal with problems we may not be able to easily define. If you can deal with those problems before relief through bad habits is established, you may have the upper hand in the battle with addiction. I was too late to the text, and wonder if it really would have helped anyway. An inclination toward addiction + raging narcissism = nothing was going to stop me.

 

Things I’ve Learned, Advice I Can Offer

Before I digress too far, let me bring it back to the addicts. I can’t tell you what the magic combination of ingredients in your recovery cure are going to be. It’s something that you have to experiment with. Relapse is common and it’s OK…it just means you need to tweak the recipe. Here are some of the things that really helped me maintain what is about now a few months shy of 4 years sobriety.

  • Figure out if you have an addiction to pornography, masturbation, or both. In my case, as most, they went hand-in-hand (total pun intended). A person told me early on that they decided it was OK to masturbate as long as they didn’t look at porn, and it was OK to look at porn as long as they didn’t masturbate. When they couldn’t marry the visual and physical pleasure, it wasn’t the same. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without one of the ingredients. It’s OK, but you don’t generally partake. I think this technique doesn’t actually solve anything, but is a good jumping-off point for people looking to wean themselves from porn and/or masturbation.
  • Understand that a porn addiction is not like a drug or alcohol addiction in some ways, so it demands a different outcome. It’s more like an eating disorder. The goal is not complete abstinence from sexual behavior. It’s about developing a healthy sexuality. I wrote a blog about this concept HERE.
  • Look at cross-addictions and mental health issues. Most addicts have some mental health concerns. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 20, bipolar disorder at 25 and PTSD at 39. I also was a workaholic and an alcoholic. While porn addiction was the lynchpin of my undoing, it was just one of the items on the buffet for me to deal with. Had I only dealt with my porn addiction in recovery, I never would have been successful. I’ve not had a drink since April 1, 2014 and rarely work more than a 30-hour week these days. I’m also diligent with my psych med schedule.
  • Find a group of people to remind you that you’re not alone and you can lean on. There may be multiple groups that fill multiple roles. My family understand me in ways nobody else does. My longtime friends understand me in another way. The friends/providers I’ve met in recovery yet another way. You can’t handle life on your own – your addictions have proven that truth.
  • Removing myself from my situation was the only way to address both my alcohol and porn issues. I was fired from my job following my arrest, so the workaholism took care of itself, but I can honestly say had I not been able to leave Maine and spend 10 weeks in California at Spencer Recovery Centers for alcoholism or 7 weeks in Texas at Sante Center for Healing for my porn addiction, I couldn’t have done it. I needed intense one-on-one and group therapy away from the surroundings that were the petri dish for my sickness. You can read about that HERE.
  • Consequences help. It did not take me long to recognize without the police intervention, I was heading on a road to death. Since that day, I have either been out on bail, incarcerated, or out on probation. With each came a list of consequences should I break the rules. Would it be easy to break the rules? In most cases, yes. But having lost so much and had my life turned upside down, I know what can ACTUALLY happen when an addiction gets out of control. The further penalties I could pay for straying are a huge motivator for staying on the right track.
  • Appreciate this is going to be a life-long battle and try to stay positive. Porn is not the enemy, masturbation is not the enemy, your brain chemistry is not the enemy. There are no enemies in this struggle. It’s going to be hard enough to navigate recovery, you don’t need to hate anything. There’s stuff going on that you need to figure out and it will take a long time…until the day you die. Until recently, I had a 2-hour weekly support group meeting and a 1-hour one-on-one counseling session. My support group was moved to monthly and I’m talking to my counselor about increasing our one-on-ones to two hours. We probably spend 10-15% of our time at this point talking about the specific addictions, but the other 85-90% can be tied to it because I am an addict. Like anybody with a chronic medical condition, I have to stay on top of it or it will become worse.

 

You’re Almost Done Reading, I Promise

I could probably list off another 20 things that help me. Hell, I could probably list another 200. But I could also list 200 things I thought would help me, but didn’t. I know for someone just starting out in recovery hearing those numbers is daunting, but it’s just a little bit every day. You’re either regressing and living in addiction or your progressing and living in recovery.

If there is anything I can say or do to help anybody out there, please don’t hesitate to send me a note. I can’t tell you how to beat this, but I can tell you that there is a path, you just have to find yours.