I’m Still Stereotyping Addicts…Are You?

I had a terrific discussion last night with a mental health professional and we talked about the stigmatizing stereotypes around not just pornography addiction, but addiction in general. I recognized that for some addictions, I probably still have a bit of “smartening up” to do.

One of the things I preach whenever I talk to a group or do an interview is that there is no stereotypical porn addict. I was a white-collar, married, father-of-two who was seen as a pillar of the community. Heck, when you think “porn addict,” you probably don’t think of a guy who was awarded the Key to the City. But I know people also don’t think 50-year-old female nurse, or high school art teacher or well-respected dentist, but I met these people and dozens if not hundreds more during my journey.

Do you know who I didn’t meet? The pimply-faced, 19-year-old who is living in mother’s basement who is socially awkward and has never kissed a girl in real life, but I think this is most people’s image of who a porn addict is. I’m sure he’s out there, but I’ve never met him.

We talked about my belief that this kind of stereotyping helped contribute to the opiate/opioid crisis. The drug problem we face today shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are episodes of Dragnet from the late 1970s where they are talking about the dangers of heroin. You can go back to rap music from the late 1980s and early 1990s where they are talking about abusing Vicodin. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. Opiates/opioids were not invented in 2009, yet it only seems like we’ve cared about it for 10 years or so.

Why? I think it’s because we put such a stigma on drug users in the 1980s through many of the anti-drug campaigns. “Just Say No to Drugs” is a good message, but I think my 8-year-old mind also heard, “…because those who say yes to drugs are dangerous and/or bad people.” I believe as a society, we looked down on drug users as being from the wrong side of the tracks. We may have had a distant cousin or a friend-of-a-friend who had a cocaine issue, never imaging how close to home the opiate/opioid epidemic would eventually hit for most people only a couple decades later.

That same decade, we gave a lot of attention to AIDS. It was really the cause of the 1980s, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Thankfully, a ton of money went into research to create drugs like AZT and societal standards, like how donated blood is handled or needle exchanges for IV drug users, changed. Earlier this month, it was the anniversary of Magic Johnson announcing he was HIV positive. Remember when that happened? Many of you are probably too young because it took place November 1991. Everyone thought he’d be dead in a year because up until that point, people died that quickly. Twenty-eight years later, he’s still here. I bring up AIDS because it shows what we can do as a society when we heap attention, money and research on a problem: We can solve it.

It wasn’t until I went to my first inpatient rehab that I actually met heroin users. I met meth users and pill poppers and people whose alcohol addiction made mine seem like a walk in the park. Essentially, I met people who I would have crossed the street to avoid before I got there.

What I recognized was that these were some of the most real people in the world. They didn’t judge me and they helped create a safe space where I could be myself and share my truth. Unlike the people who I dealt with every day in my professional life, they were open and honest and made me feel OK for being who I really was. Luckily, I adapted quickly and changed my attitude about who drug users really were. I needed to meet these people before I could change my mind.

The same is true about those with eating disorders. At the second rehab I was at there were probably 8 women and 1 man in their eating disorder program. Sex/porn addicts have a lot in common with people who suffer with eating disorders. I’ve only had this proven further to me in the fact that this blog about it is the most read entry in the history of this site.

In getting to know several of these women very well, I can tell you that not all of them were stick thin. I don’t think anything they ever saw on TV or in a fashion magazine led them to become the way they were. Some of them could be quite complimentary toward certain parts of their appearance. Getting to know them one-on-one blew apart 95% of the stereotypes I had about women with eating disorders.

I’ve not met any people who need a 12-step group like Codependents Anonymous, but I don’t have the greatest stereotype of codependent people in my head, nor do I about people who end up with video game addiction or a few other maladies out there. The conversation I had last night made me recognize that I still classify certain people a certain way because I just haven’t had the personal interaction with them, yet I’ve had enough interaction with other kinds of people that I should know better by now.

I’m not going to wait until January 1 to start. My November 22 resolution is to stop stereotyping people who suffer from any addiction or behavioral disorder.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – January Edition

I haven’t written a trivial thoughts entry yet for January and since we’re both at the end and I have no thoughts worthy of a long-form entry, it’s the perfect intersection of deadline and laziness.

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I had a fascinating conversation with a friend the other day. I have been engaging in a little more anti-porn talk on the podcasts I appear on and presentations I make lately. I’ve tried not to come off as anti-porn because I believe the people who need the most help are pro-porn. Being anti-porn is passing judgment and addicts generally don’t respond well to being judged. That said, I also fully subscribe to the idea that all porn is objectification. There is no other reason to look at pornography than to objectify the person in the images being looked at or watched. Pornhub doesn’t exist to play “Guess this person’s IQ!”

I mentioned that porn is never a good thing because of the objectification, my friend asked the question if all objectification is wrong. I said that I thought it was, even when it’s a simple as seeing a pretty girl on the street. I’m not saying it can be helped necessarily, but I did say it was wrong. He brought up the idea of people making themselves look good, especially for a blind date. Aren’t those people specifically trying to appeal to the other person on nothing more than a visual level? He also brought up the fact that most people don’t want to be in a relationship with somebody unless they find their partner physically attractive. He said that’s just part of how evolution works.

I thought it was a fascinating point to make and one that I’m still wrestling with. I’d be curious to hear your opinions if there is such a thing as acceptable, or perhaps even necessary, self-objectification.

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I was going through the list of bloggers that I follow and saw the number had exceeded 100. It doesn’t feel that way when I look through the Reader section of WordPress, so I checked into the blogs I follow and it was amazing how many people haven’t kept up with their blogs. I went through and deleted every blog that hadn’t updated in at least four months. By the time I was done, I only had 56 blogs left. Some of them were amazing and I wonder what happened to those people. Others, often about addiction, just abruptly stopped and I worry what happened to those people.

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When I first went to rehab for alcoholism in 2014, I was told by a recovered heroin user that people who are heavy addicts will often dream for years about their addiction, and using. I have to admit, that’s never happened with me and pornography. I have never had a dream about it. I did however, go through a long stretch of having dreams about alcohol and over the last few weeks, they have returned.

Almost all of the dreams are the same. I am usually at a bar or a party and somebody offers me a pint of beer. I say no. Then, the dream jumps forward and I’m sitting with a couple of empty pint glasses in front of me and I immediately recoil in disgust. I can’t understand how I could have drank those beers since I haven’t had alcohol going back to April 1, 2014. I am thoroughly disturbed in the dream at the idea that I “just forgot” I had years of sobriety.

There was a wrinkle in the latest dream. I was faced with drinking and I said to myself, “Well, since I already slipped up, I guess I could” and for the first time in years, I recall drinking beer in one of my dreams. I think it’s fascinating that in my dream world, I relapsed in one dream and used it as an excuse to continue drinking in another dream. This is just another reminder that for all the energy I put toward pornography addiction awareness, I personally have to keep just as strong a watch over the alcohol.