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.

Why do I have a pornography addiction awareness blog?

I was giving an interview to a podcast yesterday and was giving my standard answer to the “Why did you write this book?” question and it occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever directly answered the question on this blog which is strange, because the two reasons I write this blog are the same two reasons why I wrote the book.

1. To reach my fellow addicts who need to go get help

First, for addicts, or people who engage in pornography use more than they wish, I try to use my experience as a cautionary tale. Statistics suggest that one-out-of-three men between the ages of 18 and 35 believe they use too much pornography, have a problem with it, or are in the throes of a full-blown addiction.

I didn’t recognize I had a pornography addiction until long after I was arrested for inappropriate behavior with a teenager in a chat room. I believe one of the reasons that I never thought about porn addiction was that I never heard anybody talking about it.

Would it have stopped me before I let it get too far? I don’t know, nor will I ever know, but I can at least try to be that voice I never heard.

If you believe that you have a pornography addiction, please begin to get some help. That could mean a 12-step group, rehab, a therapist, online forums, research…whatever. Just don’t sit there are let the addiction fester. Check out the Resources page for more info on multiple ways to get help.

I know there is an addict reading this now who thinks, “I may have an addiction, but it clearly wasn’t as bad as yours.”

That’s probably true, and consider yourself lucky you have yet to reach the critical point that I did. If you think that I had some idea I’d ever reach the place where I was capable of going into a chatroom, look for a woman to talk to and make the mistake of engaging a teenager…well, you’re wrong.

I would have sworn to you probably up to the last two or three months before I made that horrible mistake I was incapable of doing such a thing – and I would have been telling the truth.

The gambling addict never thinks they’ll lose the house, the guy who snorts cocaine never thinks he’ll be putting a needle in his arm, the person who find solace in food never thinks they’ll get to 300 pounds.

If you have a problem – it doesn’t have to be an actual addiction yet – get some help soon. Stop this before it festers into something you can’t control.

2. To remind non-addicts there is no stereotypical addict

If you’re a male under 40 years old and you don’t look at pornography regularly, you are in the minority. If you’re a female under 40 that doesn’t visit a pornographic website at least twice a year, you’re in the minority. 98% of married men and 70% of married women under 35 report having looked at pornography at least once in the last six months. It’s not just people born post-1978 either.

Most people look at porn, but they won’t admit it. I think that they believe that people like themselves don’t look at porn and they are an exception. We need to acknowledge that more people look at porn than ever before, even if they’re not talking about it.

When I was in rehab for porn addiction, in 12-step groups, or in a group therapy setting, one thing always struck me: These are not similar people. I have met doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, people ranging in age from 19 to 78, the rich, poor and everything in between. I’ve met several women and people who can claim to be of just about every race.

Why is it important that we not stereotype who a porn addict may be? When we stereotype, we miss the outliers. If we’re led to believe that every porn addict is a 22-year-old pimply faced kid who lives in his mom’s basement and has never kissed a girl, we’re going to miss all of the others. It’s kind of like how we seemed to all agree that opiod users in the 1980s and early 90s were homeless types who weighed next to nothing and were making bad choices, not actually sick people. Now, almost everyone knows someone struggling with opiods and they don’t fit the morally bankrupt hobo profile.

Your husband, daughter, father, co-worker, clergy member, etc., may not only look at porn, they may have a problem with it. How would you really know?

I was a 37-year-old civic-minded business owner with a wife and two kids when my recovery began. I believe that the reason I had so much negative fallout locally was not only because of the charges against me, but because the community felt duped. Since I didn’t wear the tag of pornography addict on my sleeve, I certainly couldn’t be one, right? Well, they were wrong and I think felt betrayed for it. The reality is, you can’t spot a porn addict. The moment you think you can, you’re stereotyping and potentially missing something important.

 

 

 

Latest Q&A: What does ‘Gaslighting’ mean?

QUESTION: My husband is a porn addict. I’ve heard the term “gaslighting” used in this situation. What does it mean?

ANSWER: I know there are more technical definitions for gaslighting, so I’ll just handle the been-there, done-that side. Essentially, it’s the pure form of manipulation where I deflect, accuse and confuse.

Gaslighting is me making you think that you’re crazy for asking me questions about being a porn addict. Gaslighting is me manipulating you into doubting your own good sense of what is happening in front of your eyes.

It’s me telling you that I’m getting better and taking care of my problems so you live on the fumes of false hope. It’s about saying what I need to say and doing what I need to do in any given situation so I can continue to be an addict and take the spotlight off of myself.

Gaslighting is the control I have over you. I know you don’t want to leave this relationship or marriage. I know you love me and my knowledge of that is a chip in the game. I know you worry about how you’d deal with finances on your own or what would happen to the kids if you took some kind of stand about my condition. More chips for me. I know all of these things and I will use all of them to my advantage like a grand champion poker player trying to push a weaker player around.

When I’m deep in my addiction, I want you to stop asking questions and telling me what to do and I want to be left alone to engage in my unhealthy behavior. I’ll do what it takes to make that happen because I’m an addict. Porn, sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, food – it doesn’t matter the addiction. As long as you’re standing in the way of me doing this thing, I’ll do what I need to do to move you out of the way, even if it’s hold you mentally and emotionally hostage. That because I’m an addict.

I read all this and think, “What an evil person” but I’ve described just about every addict I’ve ever met. We could teach a masterclass in manipulation. We’d even have the students believing “masterclass” means something other than “class”.

I don’t know where the term comes from, but gaslighting is absolutely the No. 1 illusion in any addict’s box of magic tricks.

We all learn how to lie and manipulate in life. When you’re a baby you figure out that crying gets you fed and changed. We all learn to do it early on, it’s just that the addict, by sheer means of practice, gets really good at it. Most adults tone it down, especially with loved ones, as they get older. I didn’t. Maybe that’s why I did well in business and politics.

There were times when I would lie about something and think to myself, “Holy crap. That sounded legit! I could be an actor!”

I look back now and realize it wasn’t a compliment.

 

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: While many call me a pornography addiction expert, 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.

First Guest Blog: Google Trends Data Gives Insight Into US Addictions By State

Note from Josh: This is the first time I’m presenting a guest blogger. Aeden Smith-Ahearn approached me with some research he was working on and wondered if I’d like to share it. Upon looking at the map he’s created, I think he shows just how prevalent sex and porn addiction is in the US. I also think it’s important to point out all of the other addictions. This is really some fantastic work on his part and I hope you’ll enjoy it and be educated as much as I was.

 

By Aeden Smith-Ahearn

Addiction is on the rise, and with it comes a slew of problems that we seem unequipped to deal with. With the opioid epidemic being declared a public emergencyalcoholism on the rise, and pornography addiction still not being considered a “medical issue”,  it seems we have an overall problem that is being seriously overlooked.

In order to better understand this issue, and how it has permeated our society, we analyzed the data inside Google Trends to see just what addictions were concerning to modern Americans. We looked at this data on a state-by-state basis to find out which states were worried and educating themselves about which specific addictions.

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Here are some of our findings:

Pornography and Sex Addiction

By far the most prevalent and most searched for addictions fell in the pornography and sex addiction category. This is a growing problem, yet still not listed as an actual “disorder” by psychologists and medical professionals today.

(Note from Josh: This was written before the World Health Organization began listing sexual compulsivity disorder).

Sex addiction was more prevalent in the east, with pornography addiction trending more prevalently in the west. On the full scale, clearly American’s are worried about these addictions—given the massive search volume and popularity. Given this trend, is it only a matter of time before this problem gets too out of hand—if it hasn’t already?

Drug, Alcohol, and Opiate Addictions

With opiate and heroin related overdoses becoming a daily occurrence. News stories about drugs and alcohol are more prevalent than ever. Some states even showed trends regarding specific opiate medications, like Tramadol in Florida, or Vicodin in Michigan. Such specific trends get at the heart of the problem, with certain states having their own specific issues that are unique to them.

Nicotine and alcohol remain at large in the US as well, and work to further fuel other addictions. Rarely does one addiction come alone, but, often, one addiction leads to another in a cycle of behavior that is hard to eliminate.

Social Media and Internet Addictions

Apparently more prevalent in eastern states, the use of smartphones, addictions to social media, Facebook, and other Internet platforms are on the rise nationwide.

And because of the piggyback nature of addiction, we wonder if these simple, easy to access addictions are providing a basic neurological route that leads individuals down a path to much stronger addictions like drugs and pornography.

Food and Sugar Addictions

Overall health continues to get worse, and declining life expectancy in America is just one major signal of this bigger problem. Obesity and other issues continue to be a massive setback for the country. Food addictions are not making things easier, and many American’s are searching for education related to these addictions.

Are We Doing Enough?

The problem of addiction is very real. There is a conversation happening, and many are hoping this conversation leads to real change. However, many of these issues are new, and they come with very little real scientific understanding.

Change is happening, but is it happening fast enough? Are we doing enough? Are we creating the future for our children that will empower them?

Maybe time will tell. But let’s hope we are not leaving this problem up to chance. That seems like a poor approach to the significant problems at hand.

 

Aeden Smith-Ahearn is the content coordinator for Experience Ibogaine treatment centers. Aeden was a massive heroin addict for seven years and, ultimately, found sobriety through Ibogaine. He now spends his time writing, educating, and helping others find freedom from addiction through alternative treatment methods. 

There is meaning to life…no matter how bad it may get

When one is an addict, porn or otherwise, and hits rock bottom, some dark questions about mortality can emerge. Is there meaning to life? Yes, there is. But don’t try too hard to figure out the finer details. Like the concepts of infinity, the universe and God, I don’t believe the human mind is evolutionally equipped to understand the concept.

If there wasn’t a meaning to life, why wouldn’t more people try to kill themselves?

The suicide rates for the five-year periods between 1910-1915 and 1929-1934 were just over 16 people per 100,000. These are the highs of American history. Since 1945, it’s never gone much above 13 per 100,000…nor has it dipped below 10 according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Based on that, it’s pretty safe to say that when you’re only talking about 10-16 people out of 100,000, you’re talking a tiny, tiny minority. Clearly, it’s not hard-wired into our DNA to kill ourselves. It doesn’t rise significantly during times of war, bad economies or poor leadership. Conversely, the rate doesn’t drop much during times of prosperity and great peace. It is what it is.

For those people who say there is a difference between a meaning to life and a survival instinct of a life, I think you’re wrong. If there was no meaning, there would be no survival instinct. Things will get better, things will get worse…yet only 10-16 people out of 100,000 will choose to end their life in a given year.

 

Why? Because life has meaning. Even if you’re an alcoholic who ran over a child or a drug addict with no job. You could have gambled away your life savings or eaten your way to 600 pounds. You’re still here. There’s a reason.

But it’s not exactly survival instinct. Our bodies know when to give up and stop working.  You can witness that in a hospital every day. Sure, we have so many cries for help, but so few actual cases of suicide. You’ve got to really, really be out on that ledge to make the jump. I like to believe that those people who do kill themselves were just as terminal as a cancer patient and knew there was no coming back.

I think people are actually asking a series of questions when they ask if there is meaning to life. I think it is more about wanting reassurance they are not a mistake, that they have value and a genuine concern how to make a difference in the time they are given.

While not all of us were part of our biological parents’ plans, you are not a mistake. Your female parent had many eggs over the years. Yours was a strong one. Your male parent had billions of sperm through the years. The one that made you was a fighter. The odds of that particular egg in that particular person meeting with that particular sperm in that particular person are not calculable…especially if one of your parents was a giant whore. Isn’t there meaning in simply beating those kinds of odds? It’s like winning a lottery of lotteries of lotteries. The math behind you simply being here is astonishing.

I don’t know if life is supposed to be about helping others or advancing humanity. For some it’s about wealth acquisition and the conquering of power. In a vacuum, neither is right or wrong.

I believe I’m here for some reason, but I don’t think I necessarily ever need to get the fortune cookie that tells me what it is. For a long time, I looked for definite answers, but I don’t think the meaning of my life needs one. Just the fact there is meaning…is meaning enough.

Spoiler Alert: Relapse is NOT a Part of Recovery

I hope this doesn’t upset too many people, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Relapse is not a part of recovery. You’ll get professionals and others who care telling you it is, but that’s only so you don’t give up and get back up on that horse and keep going. Relapse is actually the opposite of recovery. Relapse is a break from recovery.

Once the relapse has started, I think people will tell you anything to get it to stop. I understand that. If the behavior doesn’t stop, it’s no longer a relapse. It’s called “using again” and I think we rationalize the relapse to the addict as a minor slip to get them back on the right path. At that point, I get it. But is there more we can do to not reach that point?

I wonder how many relapses would actually be preventable if “Progress Not Perfection” and “Relapse is a Part of Recovery” were not mantras I heard throughout rehabs, group therapies and 12-step groups.

While it’s technically illegal if you’re using a scheduled drug like heroin, relapse isn’t the kind of thing that you’ll be thrown in jail for in 99.9% of the cases. Yes, you may do something stupid while you’re in the midst of your addiction if it alters your behavior to the point you are violent, miss work or make other bad choices, but let’s be honest…except for the guilt of failing and resetting the clock, most people get through a relapse unscathed.

I was reading a well-written entry on a recovery forum I frequent earlier and a guy was talking about his relapse. He had certain phrases that struck me as:

  • Part of every addict’s journey to a new life is trial and error, aka relapse.
  • If you do find yourself using again; don’t give up, rather give yourself a pat on the back, you are just like everybody else that has successfully beat their addiction.
  • Realize that in order to relapse you must have been trying to stop, and that honestly is the biggest step in this battle.
  • Learn from each relapse…as long as you take something away from it then you are moving forward towards recovery.

This all just sounds like rationalization to me, and if you’ve ever met an addict, you’ve met someone who is not only a master manipulator and liar to those close to them, they’re able to convince themselves of anything.

Recovery is about not indulging in your addiction. It is not about indulging in your addiction only a few more times. Rationalizing that it’s OK because everybody does it and as long as you learn something from it was OK is dangerous.

One of my favorite concepts taught at my second rehab was the idea of the “prelapse.” It asserts that long before you actually indulge in your addiction, you’ve set the wheels in motion. As most addicts can tell you, there is a way of thinking and there is a way of behaving leading up to the relapse. It can be minutes, hours or days. In most cases, it’s all three.

I’m not talking about massive red flag triggers. Those should be easy enough to spot. I’m talking about things like having a bad day, seeing something that causes a certain change in thinking or slacking off from your usual recovery diligence. It’s just as important that recovering addicts understand the little, subtle things that lead them toward relapse than the massive things. We see the massive things coming a mile away.

There are rituals involved with addiction, prior to the substance or behavior actually happening that many addicts never recognize. I had to pour the Red Bull and Tequila a certain way. The conditions for looking at online porn had to be exactly as I wanted. I hadn’t started drinking or looking yet, but had I relapsed when I began preparing? In many ways, yes. I never recognized any of these routines until I entered treatment. Identifying them is a great way to stop dead in your tracks.

Knowing what’s going to happen before the relapse is the best tool for stopping it before it happens. You don’t just blink your eyes and suddenly you’re on a porn website, or sitting in your favorite chair with a tumbler of vodka, or standing at the roulette table or looking at an empty pint of ice cream you’ve devoured. There was a series of thoughts and actions that led you there.

Relapse sucks, but it doesn’t happen to everybody (it actually doesn’t happen with about 40% of people) and it doesn’t have to happen multiple times. Giving ourselves permission to slip up is the surest way of reintroducing addiction back to our lives. Stay vigilant.