Sorry, But There Was No Thrill In My Addiction

I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great resource for pornography addiction information. However, much like statistics that peg the porn industry worth anywhere between $2 billion and $200 billion (just a slight discrepancy there), I’m starting to bump into information provided from professionals that I think is just flat-out wrong.

This morning, I was scrolling through the feed and there was a short video from an Australian health professional. The video’s thesis was that “the thrill” that comes with looking at porn and masturbating makes the addiction even worse.

The thrill?

At first I thought it may be an Australian colloquialism for the physical pleasure that comes with an orgasm, but that’s not it. This person believes that there is a genuine thrill associated with succumbing to the addiction on a regular basis. Aside from the slight rush of adrenaline that came with porn viewing when I was afraid of getting caught by my parents more than 25 years ago, I don’t recall watching porn ever being a fun, exciting experience. It was a necessity. Despite trying to stimulate my dopamine receptors, there wasn’t a lot of pleasure in it.

The thrill?

Try the shame.

I didn’t want anybody to know about my addiction and in all truth, I never really faced up to my addiction or called it such while I was locked in the battle between my brain and the computer screen. There was nothing thrilling about that. It made me feel bad. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with anything. I felt like I had a dirty little secret.

Here’s my guess: This person has probably never been addicted to anything. I’ve met plenty of ex-alcoholics and ex-drug users at the rehabs I’ve been to who work in the field, but there was also plenty of people who weren’t. Usually these people love to tell you they’re in recovery and this person didn’t do that in the video.

I’m guessing they associates caving to your addiction, even though you don’t want to, as something “naughty.” There’s a big chasm between naughty and shameful. Having a piece of cake at the restaurant with dinner when you’re on a diet is naughty. Going home and binging on the cake in the fridge because you can’t stop yourself is shameful. Promising yourself you’d only lose $100 when you visit the casino, but you lose $120 is naughty. Losing $1,000 and only stopping because you’re broke is shameful. Sneaking a 5-second peek of a pornographic website at work or when other people are in the room is naughty. Waiting for everybody to go to sleep because you NEED hours to look at porn is shameful.

I know if this person was my therapist, we would not click. I also know that I would leave this person after probably only one or two sessions. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who stick with their therapists because they feel like it’s a relationship where the client doesn’t have the control. A therapist you can’t work well with is not a therapist worth keeping.

I’m sure this person probably gets through to some of their clients and I’m sure they’ve helped a lot of people, but hearing that there was a thrill to my addiction made me shake my head.

That’s not a thrill. That’s shame.

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.

Guest Blog: Understanding Depression During Addiction Recovery

Note from Josh: While I take an extended break this summer, I wanted to provide some kind of content, so Patrick Bailey was once again nice enough to contribute several entries you’ll read over the next few weeks.

By Patrick Bailey

People who have gone through withdrawal or have witnessed someone suffer because of addiction understand how difficult it is. Besides the physical discomfort and pain, people in this process suffer from devastating depression that makes the recovery even more difficult.

Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone and anywhere in the world, even those in rehabs. According to the report released by the Center for Disease Control, 10 percent of physician’s visit is because of depression. The World Health Organization reports that it is the leading cause of disability.

Depression is a mental illness that can happen anytime. In fact, it often strikes during recovery from alcohol or substance abuse and addiction. The symptoms often show during the first few weeks or months of the recovery phase. It is therefore essential that the treatment facility, be it a regular type or a luxury rehab in California, offers dual diagnosis treatment in order to effectively provide care should depression happen during recovery.

Causes of Depression During Recovery

There are many factors that could cause depression during the addiction recovery process. This includes the following:

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or simply PAWS is the usual phenomenon related to recovery. Depression can function as PAWS and commonly happens in the days or weeks after symptoms of acute withdrawal died down. The symptoms of acute withdrawal often coincide with detoxification and linger until the first few weeks of recovery. On the other hand, depressive symptoms can last for months during the recovery stage.

Changes to the brain related to addiction

During addiction, the brain is affected by alcohol or drugs. When you go to a rehab or a treatment facility, you are treated. As a result, your brain adjusts to the effects of the substances by decreasing the production of neurotransmitters that give you the high or feel good sensation. This includes dopamine, GABA, and serotonin.

These neurotransmitters are responsible for modulating your mood or simply tell you how you should feel. When these chemicals are at their optimum levels they can be translated as a positive outlook or a good mood. When these neurotransmitters are at their lowest levels, this could manifest as depression.

During the early stage of recovery, when the brain is still adjusting to life without harmful substances like alcohol or drugs, depression can happen due to low levels of dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. This usually happens approximately 90 days without drugs or alcohol. A brain functioning lower than normal and producing lower levels of these neurotransmitters can show symptoms of depression ranging between mild and severe.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis has a higher chance of occurring to people with substance addiction. Although there are also other factors at play such as family history. Usually, an untreated dual diagnosis like bipolar disorder, major depression, and other depressive mental issues may be the reason for depression during recovery. After all, there is a strong link between alcoholism and dual diagnosis as well as depression and substance addiction. Several studies show that many cases of substance addiction are due to the patient’s effort to numb the pain he is feeling.

Feelings of despair

Most patients undergo the stage where they grieve for the loss of drugs or alcohol in their life. This usually happens at the start of the recovery process. Letting go of your old habits or addiction, however crucial to your well-being, can still cause you to feel a sense of loss. In addition, emotions that were once repressed by alcohol or drugs can suddenly arise causing sudden negative changes in your mood.

Symptoms

During the addiction recovery stage, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of depressions. Signs can include the following symptoms that could manifest alone, or all at the same time:

  • Persistent emotional numbness or being in a sad, empty, or low mood
  • Recurrence of negative thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty to focus or concentrate
  • Changes in appetite (eating remarkable more or significantly less)
  • Having trouble sleeping, oversleeping, or staying asleep
  • Lack of motivation for hobbies that you once loved
  • Feeling of worthlessness
  • Frequent feeling of being guilty

If you or your loved one is experiencing or manifesting any of the symptoms listed for a couple of weeks or more, consult a healthcare professional about this.

Risks of Untreated Depression

Clinical depression that goes untreated and allowed to progress can compromise your recovery in rehab centers, treatment facilities, or wherever you are admitted. This is applicable especially during the first few weeks of the recovery stage when cravings are at their strongest. Negative emotions like anger, grief, sadness, feeling of helplessness, can trigger anyone to go back to their old habit.

There is also a great chance that the patient will have the urge to escape the facility because of the painful situation he is undergoing. Patients usually report ebbing of suicidal thoughts. The worst thing that could happen when depression happens during recovery is drug or alcohol relapse. Going back to alcohol or substance at this stage could have fatal results because of the high risk of overdose and deadly health effects.

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

Why Seek Conflict when Recovery is Going So Well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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