You Can’t Let A Loved One’s Addiction Become Your Obsession

I was fantastic at hiding my porn addiction. My wife knew that I looked at it on the computer “form time-to-time” and she never had an Amish approach to it. When it came to my drinking, though, that was not something that I was nearly as good at hiding.

In 2011 and 2012, when my drinking increased because I used it as a crutch for the increased stress in my life from my various professional pursuits, my wife became very concerned. Being the kind of person who believed he was invincible, I never saw drunk driving as a problem. It makes me sick to write this, but I believe between 2010 and when I was arrest in early 2014, I probably drove drunk twice a week at least, meaning well over 300 times.

“Josh, you know that if you’re caught driving drunk, you’re going to be on the front page of the newspaper,” she’d say, trying to find something that would get through to me. “You’ll lose advertisers for your magazine and people will ask you to leave the City Council.”

It was a well-reasoned attempt, but fell on deaf ears. I tried to rationalize my drinking to her. I was never the guy who could have one or two. It seemed like a waste of time and money if you’re doing that. If you’re drinking for the flavor, there are plenty of other non-alcoholic beverages that taste fine at half the price. I was the guy who drank either as a social lubricant to calm my imposter syndrome and anxiety in crowds, or I drank at home to simply dull all my nerve endings. But that took at least 5 drinks.

She started begging me to call her when I was out and had a few too many, which was every time I was out. When I wouldn’t do this, she started calling me when I was out. I learned fast not to ignore her call or it would just keep ringing. Most of the time, she let me drive myself home because I guess I put on a good enough act, but after coming home slurring a few too many times, her strategy changed again.

She just started coming to the professional and social events. I know that attending art gallery openings or fundraisers for various local causes were not her thing, but she wanted to make sure that there somebody sober to drive me home since I wouldn’t seek anybody out.

As my drinking (and porn use, and problems at work, and lack of self-care) increased, my relationship with my wife became fractured. I wasn’t helping around the house at all, except to provide money to keep things rolling. I rarely spent time with my kids if it wasn’t in concert with something that served me professionally.

She never officially sat me down and said this at the time, although it was quite obvious. At some point, to protect herself and make sure the kids had one functioning parent, she basically let me go. She stopped nagging me on the phone and going to events she hated just to make sure I got home OK. She knew that I was bringing her down with me and she made the decision to detach and watch out for herself and the kids. She has confirmed this to me in the years since I’ve entered recovery.

I think looking out for herself was one of the smartest moves she ever made. It allowed her to be the mother the kids needed and keep herself in a safe place. She had tried with me, and knew me well enough to recognize an intervention was not a good idea and I would have laughed her off had she suggested AA. She busted her ass for a long time to make sure I was safe, but at some point, she had to make sure she was safe.

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Ten days after I was arrested – 10 days of dealing with the police, my lawyer, the media, CPS, my PCP, and a new therapist all while still trying to keep my shit together in front of my wife, kids and parents – I went off to rehab for the drinking in California.

I thought I’d be there for four weeks. It was 10. When I returned, I still had so, so far to go in my recovery, but I noticed things had started changing around the house. The kids were on schedules that they weren’t before. The house was in order and everybody seemed happier than I remembered. My wife even went to individual therapy for several months.

Eventually, I went back to rehab for sex/porn addiction after understanding that was just as much a problem as the drinking in my life, perhaps even more. When I returned from there seven weeks later, everybody at home seemed so healthy and my wife had begun the process that would result in her getting lap-band surgery and losing over 100 pounds.

After years of caring for me and the kids, she finally made the decision to care for herself. She got a new job and was happier than I ever recalled. Today, I think we’re all in the best place we’ve been. My daughter is thriving in college after two aborted attempts, my son is doing well as a high school junior and is uttering things like “Do you think I could get into an Ivy League school?” and my marriage is stronger than it ever has been.

My wife asks about my recovery, makes sure everything continues to be on track, and is always there for me to talk to her when it’s needed, but she also understands that she’s not my accountability buddy nor my keeper. She’s an active observer in my recovery, but doesn’t mistake it for anything but my journey. She had to do her weight loss journey alone, with my support from the sidelines, and my recovery is the same.

I’ve seen many ways partners, parents, friends, etc., handle a loved one’s addiction. You must remember that it’s not your problem to solve because it’s not your problem, not matter how much you try to make it out to be. You will never be the one who has the final say on fixing things or descending further into addiction, regardless of any ultimatums. Unfortunately, in recognizing they have no control, many people try to exert more control. Zero + Zero = Zero.

I’m not suggesting you don’t support the person, let them know you’re always there for them and check-up to make sure that they are taken care of, but you can’t do that at the expense of your own health. Had my wife not detached and if I hadn’t entered recovery, I can’t imagine where we’d be today. If still both alive and together, I can’t paint a healthy picture.

You need to be there for the addict, but more importantly, you need to be there for yourself.

Q&A Time: My husband has a porn addiction – Should I tell other people in his family and see if they can help?

QUESTION My husband has a pretty bad porn addiction and knows it, but doesn’t seem to want to do much about it. If this is a real addiction, would an intervention work? Should I at least tell other people in his family and see if they can help?

ANSWER This is another tough one there is no easy answer for. I want to immediately say no, but in my case, it was helpful.

When my story hit the media, everybody knew about my addiction overnight: family, friends, neighbors and even people who had no idea who I was.

I was in and out of therapy for years in my 20s and early 30s and never once mentioned my porn addiction. I was married for a dozen years and it never was addressed. Short of being publicly outed at age 37, I can’t fathom a scenario where I would have sought the help of anybody else, be it family, friends or professionals.

Why? Because it’s about sex. It’s about naked people. It’s about what turns you on, which may be kinkier than most. And let’s be honest…any conversation about sex is still socially frowned upon. Viewing pornography is a behavior most people pretend they don’t engage in. People won’t admit to looking at pornography despite statistics proving the vast majority do, so how can somebody openly admit to having a problem with it?

The day after I was arrested and my lawyer asked me (with my wife and father in the room) if I had any addictions, I immediately admitted to my alcoholism, which they both suspected. It took me another six months before I stopped blaming the alcohol for the mistake I made, finally recognizing I did have a porn addiction problem.

Looking back now, I don’t think I would have progressed to the point that I’m now at in recovery if not for my family. They have been a non-judgmental safe haven in a world where many either don’t view pornography addiction as a “real thing” or condemn those who suffer with it.

That said, if I was a part of many families I know, I would have been disowned, not helped. While my immediate family has been wonderful, there are pockets of my extended family who I have basically ceased to have relationships with. You’ve got to have a solid barometer on how the family will react before you bring them into the mix.

I believe this question can best be answered by looking at his relationship with his family, looking at the history of their values, opinions and behaviors and if they are likely open to being part of the process of recovery.

I know how helpful my family has been, but I have talked with so many people where their family’s intervention had a different outcome.

Support doesn’t mean his mother or sister sitting down and working out with him why he became the way it is. It can be as simple as just letting him know that they love him and have faith he can overcome his addiction. It’s about love and support.

If you make the decision to seek help from his family, I would start with the male relative he is closest to and allow them to have input on if, and how, the family should be involved. They may have insight about the family you don’t possess.

I don’t think a mass intervention is a good idea. People usually don’t do a good job of hiding being a drug addict or alcoholic. When an intervention happens, the family has known for a long time, and the target of the intervention is well aware the family knows about their addiction. Imagine your husband walking into a room of family members and learning they all know about his addiction. I would think that would just be too overwhelming. Even though my family was supportive, it was embarrassing when it all came out.

As for friends, I wouldn’t get them involved. Friends talk. If he wants help from a friend, leave that up to him.

In the end, I never would have asked my family for help unless it was forced upon me. Thank God it was, but don’t base my experience as what always happens.

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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: 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.

I Think Somebody Close to Me is Addicted to Pornography… What Now?

One of the interesting things that has come out of promoting my book is finding out what people have the most questions about when it comes to pornography addiction in general. Aside from what the signs of porn addiction are, which you can read about HERE, the number one question I get is “What should I do if I think a friend or family member is addicted?”

There are a lot of ways to answer this. I can go brutally honest or optimistically hopeful. I can go hardcore treatment based or I can go more holistic. I’m not a doctor and have no certificates on my wall, so I feel a little under-qualified to suggest anything, but what I can do is flip the question to one I have more expertise: “What could people have done to help me?” This is also one of the biggest questions I get in interviews.

At The Critical Stage

In the last six-to-eight months of my addiction, prior to being arrested for encouraging a teenager to perform a sex act on a webcam, I had reached a critical point and I don’t think anything short of death or a massive non-traditional, life-shaking disruption was going to save me. Thankfully, the latter came at the hands of the Maine State Police.

Odds are, you’re not dealing with somebody who is healthy in many aspects of their life, as I was not. My drinking was at an all-time high, I was sleeping less than four hours most nights and I had abandoned the medicine I take to help control my bipolar disorder.

Most of my poor decision making at the end was as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by my professional endeavors collapsing. Despite my world collapsing on the day I was arrested, when I was contacted by one of my company’s co-owners (I only owned about a quarter but ran day-to-day operations) and told I was fired, it felt like a weight off my shoulders. I wonder if I would have had the same outcome had I left the company a year earlier.

If you think you’ve got somebody who is at the critical stage, where lives are going to be altered if they continue on the path they are, I would urge you to speak to other people close to the addict. Find out if they support your theory that they are in the end-stages before something horrible happens. If so, seek out professional help to learn what role you can, or should, play. Odds are, the addict is not at a place they are going to be receptive.

Just simply be there for them. Encourage and arrange healthier activities away from porn without preaching. Let them know that you are there for them. If, and when, they either seek help or hit rock bottom, they’re going to need someone there. Assure them you’re always there for them.

When I crashed, I knew who was there for me because they’d always made it known. That was probably the biggest thing that has kept me going during recovery.

In The Ongoing Stages

If you’re using heroin or meth, there’s not much of a question if you have a problem. But for something like porn, you’re not causing the kind of obvious physical havoc on your body that occurs with drugs, alcohol or eating disorders. It’s more like gambling or video game addiction. It doesn’t rot your teeth, cause you to lose (or gain) a ton of weight and is fairly easy to hide, but the addiction process is still rotting the mind.

I’m not going to get into it because it’s not that dramatic, but I had a couple of close calls with both myself and others when it came to reckless behavior between the ages of 15 and 25. Witnessing or participating in close calls largely scared me straight. I stopped driving recklessly, putting chemicals into my body and made a few other behavioral and lifestyle changes because I saw what happened. I experienced consequences.

When I nursed my porn addiction over two decades, there was never consequences aside from a stray girlfriend here or there upset that I had a Playboy magazine. In this world of “Clear Browser History” it’s not hard to hide how much porn is consumed.

During this stage, when I didn’t know I had a problem because I didn’t know porn addiction was a thing, I think that some kind of a scare, or at least the recognition of consequences would have gone a long way.

I wrote my book for the person who was like me during the ongoing phase. It’s not preachy, it’s not full of statistics. It’s designed to be a story like any other and you can draw from it what you need when it comes to your situation. Just knowing that there were other white collar, up-and-coming professionals like me who struggled with watching too much porn…and that they suffered grave consequences from their actions may have had some effect on me.

I think in this phase, there is the possibility of having an honest discussion about pornography and its use. I wouldn’t point fingers, accuse anybody of being an addict or suggest they get professional help early in that conversation, though. This is just a chance to plant seeds of knowledge.

Recovery is largely about acceptance on the addict’s part. Acceptance they have an addiction, acceptance there is pain that needs to be addressed behind that addiction and acceptance that they need to seek help to deal with both the addiction and the pain (and at this point, that may be the exact same treatment strategy). You can’t accept any of it for them, but you can create an environment of support where they know they have someone in their corner while they (hopefully) accept those things.

In the early stages

Odds are, if your friend or family member is in the early stages of pornography addiction, you have no idea. You can look for little signs, but are you really going to be hyper-vigilant with everyone you know? It’s like trying to figure out when someone who drinks is developing a problem. Once it’s a problem, you can identify it, but it’s hard to get there until there are signs.

I’m going to address this in a future blog, but I believe that the only thing we can do as a society is try to have people avoid the early stages by trying to understand the overall problem of pornography addiction. It needs to be part of every parent’s “don’t do this stuff” speech and should be addressed in health classes in schools.

There’s a reason I called my book “The Addiction Nobody Will Talk About”. I’ll be talking more about the role I think we need to play with our youth in the near future, but suffice to say, it begins with talking about the problem. I never knew pornography addiction could be a problem. Might just knowing at 12 years old have made a difference?