Tag: Health

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.

Q&A Time: Reader with Porn Addiction Wonders What To Do Next

QUESTION Hi. I really like your site and I promise I’m going to buy your book when I get enough money. I think that I am a porn addict. Or maybe I should say I know I’m a porn addict, but it’s not that bad yet, but I want to stop before it is. Do you know what I mean? So if someone like me wants to stop, what do I do? I don’t think I need to see anyone.

ANSWER It’s good to hear you think you’re not an addict and maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re is just in more of a compulsive use phase or maybe you’re in the early stages. As you’ve probably seen me write, these are labels. You believe you have a problem with porn. Instead of worrying where it is on a scale of 1-to-100, it’s more important you recognize the problem and want to deal with it.

Maybe you don’t need to see anyone. For now, it’s more important you try on your own than don’t try at all, but I hope you’ll stay open to the idea of professional help if the need arises. You don’t go to the hospital for a scrape, but you go for a big gash. If your unhealthy use of porn is now just a scrape, maybe you can tend to it by yourself.

You didn’t say much about how you use (or even if you’re a man — I really have to stop assuming) but I’ll assume it’s video clips online since that’s the vast majority. We both know that there is no filter that is foolproof, but we also know that having that one extra second to stop yourself can make the difference. I would urge you to put on the parental filters on Google or whatever search engine you use, and find a free piece of software online or app for your phone that can block certain sites. If you’re a fan of a certain site, not having access disrupts your routine, even if you find another site. Part of breaking habits is breaking routines. Being forced to adapt to something new may give you the moment of clarity you need to stop.

After this, I’d say look at your other routines and patterns. Are you only looking on your phone? Or at night? Is it always the same place? If your addiction isn’t “that bad” there are probably very obvious similarities in the circumstances of your use. You have to figure out a way to avoid them. I’d also suggest taking a step or two back in your routines and find out what you’re doing before you use the porn. Do you always take a shower first? Is it always immediately after you come home from work? Is it after a certain TV show? You’ll probably see patterns there. You need to disrupt those patterns.

I’d also suggest thinking about what you’re getting out of it. What itch does it scratch? Is it relaxing? Relieve tension or stress? Does it make you forget your life for a little bit? If you can find out what needs the pornography is meeting, you can also start to address how to better meet those needs in healthier ways. You may feel like you don’t need professional help for the porn addiction, but maybe you do for the grief over a lost relationship you’re running from by using porn. Maybe this is the way to fill a certain hole in your life and numb a raw nerve ending.

I can speak from experience. Take care of the core issues and dealing with the addiction actually gets so much easier. If you’re hungry, you eat. If you’re tired, you sleep. If you’re (what?), you use porn. Fill in the blank, my friend. If the answer is simply “horny” you may need to dig deeper.

I can’t really speak to the spiritual or religious side of things, but if you’re someone who has a relationship with and draws strength from God, use that, too. It seems to work for a lot of people.

I would have claimed to be in your position for many years, although I don’t think I’d be brave enough to use the term “addict” back then. I didn’t try to address things and I didn’t seek help and it blew up in my face quickly. It’s admirable you want to challenge your budding addiction. If you find that a few tweaks to your lifestyle and willpower alone aren’t enough, please seek real help.

 

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. While many have labeled me as a pornography addiction expert, 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.

I’m now officially offering peer support counseling for pornography addiction

I’ve decided to leap in with both feet and begin formally providing peer support counseling to people who are dealing with pornography addiction or those who have porn addicts in their lives who are directly affected. I appreciate the encouragement from the people who have urged me to direct my energy in this direction. It will be interesting to see what happens.

You can view the site for the new venture at PornAddictCounseling.org

Almost nobody knows just how many people I have been providing support and advice to in the last three or four months. Once my book came out and I started doing podcasts and interviews, I started getting a lot of email. That only increased when I was introduced to a handful of online forums.

Before I recognized it, my morning routine involved answering email for 90 minutes to 2 hours every morning after dropping my son off at school. There was usually another hour after lunch and sometimes another hour in the early evening. When people are writing to you from all over the world, stuff comes in around the clock.

I really like helping. I feel like it gives me purpose. I have a lot of knowledge about pornography addiction and I’m a former addict who is successful in recovery who doesn’t mind talking about it. It makes me rare and makes sense for someone to seek me out for advice, suggestions or support. I’ve enjoyed helping and it gives me such a sense of happiness when something I’ve said has helped someone.

In early March, it became very clear to me that the time I was devoting to helping people was eating into the time I use to make money as a freelance writer. Thankfully, I have a couple of steady clients who pay well, but that “extra time” I used to pick up odd jobs here and there was gone. Those odd jobs can mean 20%-40% of my income many months and without it, things were getting tight.

A close friend suggested a fee for my peer support and counseling in late March. I did a bit of research and it’s far more common than I realized. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so crazy and there was now a way I could both help people and replace the money I’m not taking in from writing anymore.

After talking it over in early April with my wife and therapist who both thought it was a good idea, I enrolled in a life coaching course (which frankly, I’m not sure was worth the money or my life has just provided ample training) and finished in early May. I built the website last week.

So today, I officially launch this side affair. I’m not going to push it like I’ve pushed my book. (Have you still not bought one? What’s wrong with you? Cool people buy it and you want to be cool, right? Super cool people buy two.) I’m going to treat this organically. Maybe putting a price on this scares people away. Maybe it’s the start of a second career. Time will tell.

I hope you’ll check the site out and let me know if there’s anything that’s missing or if there’s something you’d like to see there. It’s not meant to be an active blog like this site, so I want to get it right in the beginning. And nothing should change about this site. I’ll still post something original on Monday and then either do a Q&A, statistic of the month or “Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest” on Thursdays.

Finally, I want to thank people for their support leading to the start of this endeavor, especially those who provided name-changed testimonials.

The one thing I don’t have yet is a clever name for the whole thing. Any ideas?

Once again, you can check it out at PornAddictCounseling.org

If what I’m offering is not the kind of professional help you need, but you’re anxious to meet a psychiatrist face-to-face, I urge you to check out this site and learn more about finding help online. Click HERE for more information.

 

Ask Me Anything… And They Are

So Monday is my usual day for an entry on my site but I have been absolutely slammed with questions for the Ask Me Anything I’m doing over at AMAHost.com  I didn’t know anything about this site until I was asked to do it last week, but I’ve now got over 30 questions answered and have actually tackled a bunch of topics that I’ve never talked about on this site beyond my porn addiction, in more depth, like my alcoholism and process for writing my book. If you have enjoyed my writing in the past, I hope you’ll click over to this site and check it out.

Click Here for my Ask Me Anything event

Your alarming porn statistic for May

This is less of a statistic and more of a wake-up call to how bad this problem is.

In 2013, researchers at the University of Montreal, led by professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse, planned to compare the behavior of men who had never looked at pornography to those who had viewed it.

They had to scrap the study.

They couldn’t find any men who hadn’t viewed porn.

Read more about this HERE

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.

 

Recovery began by dropping resentments

“I could never forgive/am still upset with X for doing Y.” I’m sure you have plenty of X’s and Y’s. I try not to anymore. One of the biggest pieces of my recovery has been learning to drop grudges and squash resentments before they start. Letting things go feels like releasing oxygen; refusing to feels like suffocation.

I remember it was only a few days into my first in-patient rehab when we were tasked to write a letter to someone we held a resentment against. At the end of the exercise, we put them through the shredder, so it wasn’t like it was going to ever be seen by them. It was more just about a cathartic release.

On the surface, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d heard. In the past, my way of dealing with resentment was to either stifle and move forward or angrily confront the person, usually just making things worse in the process. This exercise sounded like hippie, touchy-feely crap. Then I did it.

The first person I could think of was one of the people I co-owned a couple of companies with prior to being arrested. They, like most of my business partners, were once someone I considered a close friend, but had distanced themselves from me a few months earlier and I was still framing it like an abandonment.

Once I started writing, I focused on the small things this person did that irked me over the years. You know, the kind of stuff that gets under your skin in the moment and you look back and think “That wasn’t cool.”

It was little things, like saying they’d help with something I thought was major, but backing out at the last minute. In retrospect, it wasn’t major, they had a decent reason, and my Plan B was just fine. Or needing them to step out of their comfort zone to deal with somebody, but them not being able to overcome their anxiety. I have anxiety too, so I get it. I just wish they could have faced it.

It surprised me how good it felt to understand their side of things. When I stopped being the center of the universe, it’s easier to understand other people’s issues.

*** Decided it’s time to seek help but not sure how to locate a therapist near you? Check out this article that can help you navigate those waters. Click HERE ***

Then I moved onto the bigger things. This person had spoken ill of me to quite a few people. I don’t know why they didn’t think it wouldn’t get back to me. I realized just how much this person and I did that to others when we were on the same page. Should it be any great surprise they would do that me? Maybe it’s my journalism roots – or why I got into journalism in the first place – but I used to really enjoy gossiping and this person and I had earned PhDs in the science.

I was collapsing in on myself like a black hole, but they weren’t. Their behavior was boorish, just like mine was when I did the same thing, but they were still behaving naturally.

When it came to them “abandoning” me as I flamed out and crashed like a satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere (What’s with all the space references today?) that wound was still very fresh when I wrote the letter, but I was able to take a breath and recognize it was not abandonment. It was pulling away from a bad situation by someone who was looking out for themselves. People shut themselves off to others as a form of self-preservation. This is what they were doing. Through an objective lens, it honestly made sense.

I read the letter out loud to the group and put it through the shredder. Writing down that I forgave the person and then saying it out loud was powerful. That night, as I went to sleep, I noticed I felt a lot better. I thought about some of my other business partners and other people who had made it onto my list of resentments. Once I got that first person out of the way, it was so much easier to just let things go with everybody else.

Asking myself why I was holding onto things actually made me feel kind of dumb in a way. What did I think would change or come out of negative thoughts or energy? Nothing could change what happened in the past and I wasn’t looking for anything to really change in the future. Did I expect them to grovel at my feet begging forgiveness? Even if they did, I’d have been angry for them causing a scene to make me look like the bad guy. Those kinds of lasting bad feelings weren’t going to be mended, because they couldn’t, so why carry it with me?

Letting go isn’t saying they were right or wrong. It’s not saying I was right or wrong. It’s saying that the energy in taking a side isn’t worth the outcome, especially when the outcome is negative emotions. I don’t have to admit defeat because there is no winning side in resentment.

I talked with my wife every night while I was at that rehab on the telephone. She and I were in very similar places of resentment against many of the same people when I left. When she’d voice anger toward someone, I realized mine was either gone or had dissipated greatly. Somehow, I was learning to let things go.

Now, nearly four years after that happened, I look back at the angry person I was and feel bad for that guy. Sure, he may have been more successful on the surface, but he carried too much spite inside. I think my wife has released a lot of it, but I know there are still people who carry resentments for me and carry resentments against me that they’ll probably never let go of. I feel sad for both groups. It’s just not worth it.

Let your resentments go. You have nothing to gain by maintaining them.

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