My Pornography Addiction was About Power and Control, Not Sex

I probably should have recognized this early in my recovery, but I’ve come to realize that my addiction to pornography was just an extension of who I was at the time: Somebody struggling greatly with a lack of power and control to the point I’d fool myself into believing I had both by almost any means necessary.

I recognize that this comes from the faulty survival skills I developed as a child when I was being babysat everyday by a woman who was mentally unstable. Looking back, I can now recognize the severe obsessive-compulsive disorder she had, along with a handful of other issues that led to an environment of multiple forms of abuse and one where I didn’t feel safe.

My outlook on life then, as it was for most of the next 30 years, was to simply survive to the next day. It didn’t matter how you got there, as long as you made it until tomorrow. Along the way, I developed a variety of coping and escape mechanisms. I’ve only recently realized that they were my ways of maintaining control.

I have been diagnosed with a detachment disorder. I think that developed, along with a lack of empathy, because it was easier to not care about things. Instead of being hurt, if I didn’t have any vested interest in most things or people, it wouldn’t have an effect on me when bad things happened. Detaching was control and control equaled power.

For several years in my late teens and early 20s, I had a daily marijuana habit. I can now see it was my way of taking control of my mind, emotions and thoughts. Yes, it was a dulling of the senses, but it was my choice. For the hours of the day I couldn’t control my natural reaction to things, there were those hours that I could check out – on my terms – with the marijuana.

The two constants for so long were alcohol and pornography. I think the alcohol was like a more socially acceptable form of marijuana at the time. Alcohol was my way of taking control and deadening my nerve endings temporarily so I didn’t have to feel.

When it comes to the pornography addiction, I believe that was more akin to the rest of the way I lived my life. I owned a business so nobody could boss me around. I was on the City Council because I wanted to decide what happened in my town. No matter the political or social issue, I’d be on Facebook advocating for my side and talking down to those who disagreed. I tried to create a world where I was in complete control, but the only person I fooled into thinking that was true was myself.

Pornography wasn’t about naked people doing sexy things so I could relieve myself. It was about controlling the people on the page of the magazine, in the videos, or the film clips on my computer screen. If they weren’t doing exactly what I wanted, I could just skip to the next picture or clip and eventually I’d find someone doing what I wanted. Since I couldn’t really control people in my real life (despite trying) I was able to use porn as surrogate.

When that stopped being enough, I made the transition to chat rooms. A lot of the time, things never even got sexual. I simply enjoyed steering the conversations and getting women to admit things they probably wouldn’t otherwise. If I couldn’t get the woman to acquiesce to my sexual requests, I’d get her to try on clothes, or rearrange furniture in her room…whatever I could do to gain power in my mind. Power equaled control.

I haven’t had much in the way of triggers or cravings with pornography in a long time and I was asking myself exactly what that was the other day. I was wondering if I reached a point of being “recovered” as you can read about in my most recent blog. I think that the relative ease that I am having being away from both porn and alcohol has to do with the fact that I don’t feel the need for power and control the way I once did.

I think my ordeal of getting arrested, going through the court system, spending six months in jail and being on probation for the past three years – not to mention the radical changes in my lifestyle and daily routines – have put me in a place where I know that there is just so much control I can exert over my life, and a lot of it is just out of my hands and none of my concern.

Truth is, I don’t care who the President is. I know they’re making decisions that may or may not affect my life, but whether I like it or not, I have no control, regardless of what I used to write in Facebook diatribes. My opinion about a border wall means nothing, so why fool myself into thinking it does? That’s a waste of energy I can use on healthier things. I can’t control who my daughter dates now that she is a legal adult and trying to force my will on her probably will do more harm than good. If my wife doesn’t cook me dinner, it’s up to me to get it for myself. I can’t control the people and happenings around me, especially when they don’t go the way I wish.

Those people who were depicted in the pornography I consumed were there because they were either making money or because they had deep-seeded issues…probably both. But they were not there with the sole intention of being used by me. That was a fantasy I concocted in my head.

Ironically, now that I’ve admitted my lack of control and power, I feel more in control and powerful than ever because it’s grounded in reality, not fantasy. And with reality, I don’t need the escape hatch of addiction to fool myself.

 

Q&A Time: I’m A Porn Addict. Help.

QUESTION: I’m struggling with this addiction and I need help. What now?

ANSWER: That’s about as direct and to-the-point as you can get. It’s hard to get very specific because I don’t know if you’re looking once-a-week and feel bad about yourself or if this is a daily, multi-hour activity that is starting to stray into extreme or illegal territory. Either way there are some common pieces of advice I’d offer.

First is to find a professional to talk about this with. Depending on where you live there may be Certified Sex Addiction Therapists available. That would be your first choice. Here in Maine, where I live, that is an official licensure designation. If that’s the case where you live, you’ll want to find someone who has expertise with addictions. That can range from LCSWs (licensed clinical social worker) to LMFTs (licensed marriage and family therapist) to CACs (certified addiction counselors).

When you find that therapist, be 100% honest with them. You’re wasting everybody’s time and your money if you are anything less. The therapist will help guide you through you journey, but you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting and lying to them (or yourself) is going to largely render the therapeutic experience as worthless. Also understand you are probably going to bring up a lot more questions before you start with answers. This is all part of the process.

Next, find others who are also suffering from pornography addiction. Share your story with them and listen as they share their story with you. Recognizing you’re not alone, and coming to a sense of community with others like you will help you.

You can find these communities with 12-step groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. If these kinds of support groups are not local to your area, there are online meetings and hundreds of hours of recorded testimony available on YouTube of people talking about this exact subject. If you want to be more interactive, there are a handful of really good message boards out there. I’ve listed a few on the Resources page of this website and I’m sure a simple Google search may yield a few more I don’t know about. The point is, you are not alone in this struggle.

Finally, I’d urge you to learn as much about porn addiction, or addiction in general. There are literally thousands of books that you can find online and countless videos on YouTube that address addiction. I found learning about the scientific side of things helped me understand what I was experiencing at a deeper level.

As addicts, we tend to think that we’re a special snowflake and nobody could possibly understand what is happening with us. The reality is, in most cases, we’re just another statistic. Understanding those statistics, especially ones that had to do with success in recovery, was one of the key steps to me staying on the recovery path.

You must understand that your addiction will not go away overnight. Recovery is a long, hard road with triggers galore in the beginning. While I rarely feel triggers these days, even five years into recovery, they can still happen. You need to develop the tools to deal with them.

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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.

The Day I Truly Entered Recovery from Pornography Addiction Was…

…the day I stopped waiting for other people’s advice or tricks to be the magic bullet solution. I’m now just over 4.5 years sober from porn. I would have told you then that M/O (masturbation/orgasm) was also an issue, but once the porn went away the M/O reduced by 98%. I was a porn addict.

I was in therapy for years long before I ever admitted to my porn addiction, trying to deal with my anxiety and feelings of always being out of place in the world. While it did come to light that I was bipolar, and that was important to contain, I just kept waiting for the piece of advice or the pill that would make my life fall into place and I’d become like all of the other people.

Through my 20+ years of porn addiction and alcoholism, there were certainly times where I was very weak and I know that I certainly did some damage to my pleasure centers by nuking my brain with dopamine, oxytocin and all of those others happy chemicals.

I am grateful for my therapist. She is an amazing guide through my psyche and has helped me connect so many threads that I finally understand the web of who I am, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but she couldn’t have done it without me…and for too long I was waiting for that.

I didn’t know about NoFap or online boards where most guys try to white-knuckle it, or theories like the whole Red Pill thing back when I was in early therapy. I think there are holes to all of those modalities, but if they work for you — actually work — then I think they’re fine because it’s YOU who is making them work.

I sat in a few months worth of Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings mostly listening to men complain about their sexless lives and realized that the only way you’re going to change is if you truly become committed to change.

My therapy moved in a bit of a cognitive behavioral direction and that started to make all the difference. How often do you ask yourself, “Why am I about to do this?” “What is motivating me here?” “Why am I having these feelings?” At one point in my recovery, I was probably doing this 25 times a day. Now, there is a level of muscle memory that has sunk in. Triggers are hardly a bother, for both porn and alcohol.

I’m proof that anybody can beat this thing, but I’m also proof that this isn’t like a broken leg where it just heals on its own, and it’s not like an illness that antibiotics will take care of. It’s not a mental condition that a few pills will contain and nobody is holding back the secret that will make you better.

It’s on you. You need to make the commitment to change. It’s not a desire, it’s not a hope. It’s a commitment. You get your ass up everyday to go to work. You visit your family on holidays. You pay your taxes. You know how to handle commitment. You just have to decide this is worth it and once you take control — well, the hard work has only just started — but at least you’ve taken that legit first step.

Note: I posted this on a message board about porn addiction, but thought it would also fit with what I do on this site. I need to remind people that while they may not end up a pornography addiction expert, they can all end up in recovery.

So How Was the Food in Jail?

It’s been about a month since I wrote about jail, and following the response I got about the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Experiment, I figured I’d talk about the food situation. There are a lot of guys who gain weight in jail, but I actually lost it. I ended up serving six months and six days, and came out about 20 pounds lighter than I went in.

The food was terrible. Breakfast was raisin bran with a side of toast and peanut butter most mornings. Twice a week the toast was replaced with nasty scrambled eggs and twice a week the raisin bran was replaced with nasty oatmeal. Once a month we’d get a coffee cake or something exotic, usually the result of a bakery donating food instead of tossing it out, I was told. A small carton of juice – usually orange or apple – rounded out breakfast.

Lunch was most often a sandwich with some form of mystery meat. Dinner was just the mystery meat in stew form. Despite having many myths about jail dispelled early on the quality of food was one of the more stereotypical things I anticipated correctly.

We had trays brought to us in the pod, so there was no cafeteria time. Unless you had a visitor, needed to see the nurse, or chose to go outside for recreation time – which only happened June through October – you never left that room. I never once stepped outside that building during my entire sentence. It was a nice break from some of my fellow inmates when they went outside to pour their testosterone on the basketball court, so I stayed indoors.

I rarely ate any meat in jail and never the red meat. For side dishes, I could always count on a lot of rice, vegetable soup, cole slaw, salad and oranges and that was what I mainly ate. I’m certainly no vegetarian, but I am a bit of a snob when it comes to quality…I demand some.

While we were never given menus, those who came before me figured out we were on a rotating four-weeks schedule and what was on it, so it was never a surprise when the guards arrived at the door. I do have to admit, the once-a-month cheese lasagna was pretty good.

Despite the quality of the food, I was surprised that in my six months there, I never saw a single person get sick, or even show any digestive issues. It would have been rough if more than one person was running to the bathroom because they had some bad salami since it was only a one-person bathroom. You can read more about that situation here.

Some like me, at light while others gorged. You were either someone who gave food away or you were someone who took the food. While food was used as betting material in card games or to bribe someone to do something, it wasn’t as serious a commodity as some TV shows and movies led me to believe it would be. I never saw any intimidation tactics.

I gave my food away to my core group of long-timers, or any of the older guys who would come into the pod. If they didn’t want it, I’d offer it up to the young guys. A lot of decisions in jail are about pecking order – who sleeps or eats where, who picks what to watch on television, who is allowed extra phone time without complaint – and both my age and duration of stay played to my favor.

If I were in state prison, I’d be a short-timer, but in county jail, a six-month stay is seen as a lifetime. There were several people who arrived after I got there, left, came back and left again during my stay. Usually they had drug or domestic violence issues.

I could still be friendly with the tolerable younger guys because I wasn’t that much older than they were, but the older men saw me as one of them. It was a good position, although turning 40 years old in jail was not how I envisioned that milestone being achieved.

Along with the side dishes, I supplemented what I ate with the commissary. I’d always heard of this “jail store” where you could buy snacks, playing cards, stamps, etc. but was surprised to find for us, it was just a sheet of paper and we had to call our orders in on the one phone in the pod twice a week. That process took 20-to-30 minutes for an average order, so I made sure to do mine when most guys were sleeping. A few days later our orders arrived in plastic bags.

I loaded up on peanut butter for protein. I was also liberal with the candy bars and potato chips. Everything cost 25-40% than it did on the outside, but if I wanted a sleeve of Ritz Crackers, I was paying $4 and there wasn’t much I can do about it.

The guys who didn’t have a lot of money would often get together and chip in to make “Jail Burritos”. One would buy a bag of Doritos. Those would be crushed, along with a cup of water, to make the dough. Once rolled out, somebody contributed a sausage or two from the commissary order form. There was also cheese sauce on the commissary list and jalapeno peppers. It was all very much like the Hickory Farms stand at the mall during Christmas. Sometimes, if guys knew they were making a burrito that night, they’d save their salad from dinner and put that in there.

The giant burrito would be folded over, cut up into section and served to the four or five guys who contributed. I participated once, but found the thing so vile, I never touched it again. It was gross, but it was clever and that was one of the things I discovered about my fellow inmates. They were broken people, but many were smart and made-do with limited resources. Hearing stories of how to get high with an orange rind and stapler, or how to build a tattooing gun was fascinating.

I never saw these things in action, but I did see guys who claimed to know how to pass notes and small objects through the toilet to other pods try their skills. I don’t know that they were ever successful, but enough swore they’d seen it work. Even if it didn’t, they did know how to talk to inmates the other pods through the sink and toilet. It was kind of impressive, to be honest.

There were some true dolts in jail to be sure, but I think most simple people follow the law. Jail was full of people who gave their capacity for criminal behavior too much credit. If you ever meet somebody who has been to jail and they want you to follow their plan for bad behavior, don’t, and not just because it’s illegal. They have proven they aren’t good at being a criminal since they have a history of being caught. You’d think they’d learn…especially when they know what the food is like if they go back.

Help Me Figure This Out: Am I Overreacting to this Situation?

Maybe this is just me venting, or maybe I’m looking for validation that I’ve been treated poorly or maybe I need to hear that I should just shut up and accept things, but I’ve been dealing with a situation over the last day involving a library where I was going to be giving a presentation about pornography addiction. They decided to back out and I just need somebody to let me know what they think from an independent perspective.

I don’t want this to come off as sour grapes on my part, so I’m not going to talk specifically about where the library is or the names of the people I’m dealing with. I understand that they are legally entitled to do whatever they want. I just want to know if I’m correct in thinking that I’ve been treated unfairly. Sometimes I have a complex about these things.

Some background:

In early March, after donating a copy to this library in a nearby state, I was taken up on my offer to give the presentation “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About” which while it shares a title with my book, it is more an educational lecture about pornography addiction, looking at statistics and what the signs of addiction are, while also sharing pieces of my story. The whole “porn addiction expert” thing comes from having the experience of being one, plus being well-studied on the subject. This presentation is the best of both worlds.

About three weeks after we set a date for May, I was sent an email suggesting the appearance be moved to September, for fear that a nice Sunday in May might keep potential attendees at home. I figured they knew their stuff and agreed. I haven’t spoke to them directly in almost three months.

However, as the book has caught the interest of libraries across the country (and New Zealand…no idea why 4 libraries have it there, yet I still can’t get one into a state ending in the word “Dakota”) I have periodically updated a list kept on this site. I’ve always noticed that library never appears. It was never entered into their electronic catalog.

So, anyway, we move into the last 24 hours. Yesterday I got an email that says:

Hi Joshua
Some sad news – there has been a change in directors since we last talked and they do not want this program. One of her concerns is that people would think attending indicates they have this problem too and they don’t want to have that reputation. She is the boss now so we won’t be able to work with you.
BUT
I was thinking if you set up a discussion panel with you and a therapist or some professional counselor who deals with this – that would make libraries feel more comfortable.  All the podcasts on your website lend a lot of credibility. In your letters to libraries you could mention the website with all your radio and podcast work. And maybe a library would feel better having this as part of a series on addiction:  not just including substance abuse but work addiction and adrenaline addiction – those are not talked about very much either.
I’m disappointed since I know you are doing a good work for the community. But good luck in the future.

This absolutely floored me, but I’m smart enough now to think before I speak…or write. I did want to know one thing though. What happened to the book I sent them? Much like my presentation, was it deemed too controversial? Here is the response I got:

No – I am embarrassed to say it is still on my coffee table for me to read. It definitely has not been removed. For items that could be challenged by a community member I like to read first so I can have the arguments ready as to its inclusion. In all my years of library work I have not personally had a book challenge – but you never know. Take Care

If I was floored yesterday evening at seeing the first email, this one left me looking around to see who was playing a prank on me. Maybe there was some Candid Camera/Punk’d for a new generation involving addicts or authors. It seemed more likely than somebody being serious about worrying their patrons would be seen as porn addicts or that the book would be so offensive that it needs to be examined, even if nothing in the history of the library has ever been deemed offensive. So, I decided to give myself a little bit more time and went out to lunch with my parents and my son to celebrate his last day of school a couple days ago. When I returned, I wrote this:

I have done four library presentations to this point, with (OTHER LIBRRARY) being the only other in (STATE), and I’ve not been met with any of the resistance that either you or your director seems to fear. The idea that people who attend the event are going to be labeled as porn addicts is only true if either of you are doing the labeling. Would you invite an author to present a book on the Holocaust, but assume the attendees are Nazi sympathizers? Would you not allow a book by somebody who was an Army sniper for fear attendees would be the kind of people who like to shoot others?
In (OTHER LIBRARY), I think we drew 8 or 9 people. It was mostly middle-aged women who worked in health care who wanted more education. I don’t think anybody jumped to any conclusions about them, and if they did, so what? Shouldn’t those people get the chance to hear a presentation that is about the healthcare crisis of pornography addiction? After the event, a woman, probably about 35, came up to me and admitted she had a problem and wanted help. After a couple of days of exchanging messages, she found a therapist and began attending a 12-step group for women in (NEARBY MAJOR CITY). So you’re right, you may get an addict there. In this case, it was one who finally got help. She finally met someone in real life who experienced addiction years ago, doesn’t judge and was able to be a resource.
The book is in almost 200 libraries in four countries at last count. I get email daily from some of the people who read the book. Most thank me for trying to start a discussion. To date, I’ve done over 50 radio shows and podcasts not to just promote the book, but to educate about the addiction. A recent study by Canadian researchers said that in the last 6 months, 98% of married men and 70% of married women under 35 looked at pornography. 48% of households say porn has a negative effect on their home. 24% of people have looked at porn at work in the last 6 months. If your fear is that people in (LIBRARY’S TOWN) may end up with the assumption porn addiction is a problem for many of its residents…it is. I can guarantee that, no matter how much people wish it wasn’t so. And the library should be a place that residents can find resources. If this were 1982, would books on heroin and other opiates be ignored because back then, most wanted to believe the people who used those drugs were just the kind of people society looked down upon. Now it’s hard to find a family not somehow affected. Why? Because our society was reactive to the opiod crisis, not proactive.
If this is just a matter of “porn is gross” I don’t disagree with you. There are lots of gross things in this world we wish weren’t here and it’s every individual’s right to make the decision to stay away from it. It’s just a bigger deal when that person is the gatekeeper of information in a community, much like your role and the director’s role in the library. Prior to entering recovery and learning as much as I could about this addiction, I would have fought you hard about the library’s actions because it seems so unjust to me. Somebody standing in the way of someone else delivering information because the first person doesn’t like it just smacks of censorship. I would have taken to social media and contacted the newspaper and try to stir things up, but I’m just not that guy anymore. It wouldn’t really matter anyway because it wouldn’t spread the message that porn addiction is going to be a healthcare crisis of a new variety for the 21st century. I didn’t expect a large audience, nor did I expect the book to have holds on it for the first six months in was on the shelf, but it is nice to think that, like those libraries who didn’t cancel me and who haven’t hesitated putting it on a shelf, their patrons can make that decision for themselves. I hope the irony of the title “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About” isn’t lost on anybody on your end. 
If you choose not to put the book on the shelf because it will introduce dangerous ideas to your community, I’d just ask you donate it to a Goodwill, Salvation Army or local church fair. Thank you for hearing me out.

 

I half-expected that to be the end of it. I figured the only response could be one that either doubles-down on her vague position, or admits to being wrong upon further analysis. Instead, I got a strange blow-off about an hour later earlier today:

Thank you for writing this – it is very informative.  Your book will 99.99% end up in the collection – the only delay has been that it got stuck in my reading queue but I will put it at the top now.  From the bit I have scanned through I don’t see any problems – but for due diligence I need to go through the whole thing.
It is most excellent your experience at other libraries and hearing of the kind of audiences.  Can I recommend you mentioning this in your website – the well received library visits – and the exact libraries?  If they could give you a blurb to put on your website too – that would be great. After you’ve added the library stuff to your website you can ask one of the libraries to recommend you on a listserv that most all librarians in (STATE NAME) read. Ask one of the libraries where your program was really successful to put a recommendation on the list and contact info on that list. This gives you a lot of credibility and will definitely increase your bookings.
So can I ask you to contact me in 6 months? If you’ve gotten libraries on your website and even a rec on the list – it will be an easier sell for me.

A big piece of me wants to send a response asking if they had to spend time going through all of the pro- and anti-Trump books coming out now on their shelves. A bigger piece of me wants to prod them into telling me point blank what the REAL problem is. I think I know what it is – it’s the “porn addicts are gross, we don’t want one here and would rather pretend they aren’t in our community” stance. The biggest piece wants to write back and say, “Don’t tell me how to become all prim and proper so I can possibly book your library down the road. I don’t want to step foot in your library…ever.”

But I won’t. I won’t send any of those things. I’m going to let it go as far as they are concerned.

I’m just left sitting here trying to think if I’ve been treated poorly, if I’ve been essentially discriminated against, if anybody with a porn addiction is being discriminated against and if the poor people in that town don’t have unfettered access to information at their library. It’s like Footloose, but actually important.

If nothing, it’s at least bad form to book somebody and cancel, right? I know you’re only getting my analysis of the story, although I gave you as much as I have to go on. Am I right to feel slighted and hurt or am I making too much of this? I’d love to know what you think.

Oh, and if you’re new here and don’t know the book I wrote that I’m talking about, you can get the details of it on Amazon HERE. Buy several. Send them to the residents of that New England town.

 

Practicing Empathy Has Been Huge to My Alcohol & Porn Addiction Recovery

Early in recovery, going through the inpatient rehabs, I was told many times I had a history of exhibiting a clear lack of empathy in my life’s decision making. I understood what they meant as I tended to be outwardly cold and indifferent. I would listen to another person’s problems simply to wait for my turn to talk and put on display I had mastery over their issues, which made me superior.

For most of my life, people did not come running to me for emotional support because they knew they’d be met with a logical answer for solving whatever ailed them. I’m sure there are people who are born with a legitimate lack of empathy, but mine was shut off as a defense mechanism.

I was the guy at funeral who would blurt things like “I don’t think he looks peaceful, I don’t think he looks dead” or “You’re right, he’s not suffering anymore. He’s not anything anymore.”

I knew even then how things like that sound, but it was a way for me to ignore not only my feelings, but theirs as well. I could barely deal with my own stuff. I didn’t need theirs cluttering up my head.

In recovery, I came to the recognition that I would need to work on how people perceived me. I wanted the world to know a more authentic Josh, not just the carefully crafted eccentric character I portrayed. I’d done such a good job building up these walls of emotional resiliency, people actually thought nothing was on the other side.

Because of my probation restrictions, I wasn’t able to get on social media for a long time. Lacking an audience for my philosophical or political rants was good for my mental health. I stopped following national and international news and I actively started to practice putting myself into other people’s shoes when they shared their stories.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard to let down my guard and let the world see my more authentic, empathetic self. It was less energy than trying to keep my armor up at all times. While I know many simply can’t believe this, it’s actually easier to find why you’re more alike with someone than why you’re different.

I think the biggest piece of self-realization came when I recognized most people didn’t care what I had to say and that was perfectly OK because almost nobody was ever going to change their opinion based on what I said, nor was changing their opinion going to result in anything different. They just wanted to be heard for reasons that had nothing to do with what they were saying.

There has been a giant change in the social landscape of America in the last five years, probably becoming it’s more outward “authentic” self as I’ve been going through the same process. It’s not like people just got racist and hypocritical and mean in the last few years. They always just hid it, the way I hid who I was. I think it’s politics and social media that have caused this change, but that’s a discussion for another time.

What I see in this world now is so much anger, fear and sadness. I see so many people who have such little sense of self-worth and need for validation. I see people who reach conclusions without even consciously deciding to ignore the facts. I see segmentation into more “tribes” than ever before and an instinct to blame others before looking within. I see who I proudly once was.

Five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have let myself care. I would have played along, making sure I portrayed myself as righteous to those who agreed with everything I said and vilify those who didn’t. I would have used my communicative skills to manipulate to get what I wanted in both my professional and private lives. I would have played the game so many other people were playing, fooling myself that I was two moves ahead of everyone else.

At the end of the day, when there wasn’t anyone around, I’d retreat to my world of alcohol and porn because I knew I wasn’t the guy I was showing the world, but I wasn’t ready to meet that guy either. The pornography and alcohol allowed me to run from myself.

I don’t use those things anymore and I don’t play that game anymore. I’m so much happier and healthier for it. Years ago, my life was about fooling myself into thinking I was successful. Now, if I give an interview and someone calls me a “pornography addiction expert” I kind of laugh inside my head….of all things to finally be successful at.

Today, I can clearly see all of the people who I acted like still living in the world around me. I couldn’t back then. I see the people with all of the negative emotion and non-constructive ways of dealing with it. I read the words of those who are so blinded by resentment and greed that they can’t fathom how resentful and greedy they are. I witness people pointing fingers at others and wonder if they could do that in a mirror for any length of time.

I see a world that appears to be on the verge of throwing punches or collapsing in tears. Who wouldn’t want to have the kind of defense mechanisms I used for all those years? Isn’t it obvious why addiction rates are sky high? Isn’t it clear why so many young people choose pornography over real life? And in a very sad way, isn’t it somewhat understandable why a person might confuse suicide with a positive conclusion?

I’ve read 101 definitions of empathy in the last few years. I’ve come to believe it’s about recognizing the character flaws in others, yet not letting those flaws disqualify you from caring. I think it’s also about recognizing what you see as flaws, other see as virtues, and debating which-is-which is a waste of energy. Empathy is about not letting your own baggage get in the way of someone else’s. It’s about understanding, even if they can’t, and especially when they can’t.