I was Raped. Why do I Feel Nothing?

One of my favorite blogs to read is Revenge of Eve and in one of her postings today, she reflected back on a traumatic sexual assault at 14 she didn’t recognize as assault at the time. I thought it was refreshing to hear somebody say that they were a willing participant in the moment, but that the perpetrator (in this case a man in his 30s) is appalling and should have known better. I think a lot of sexual assaults aren’t as cut and dry as “this person did X against my will” and they need to be talked about.

While I’ve written a little bit about sexual abuse I endured at the hands of a babysitter when I was a child, I’ve not written about another incident that happened to me in my early 20s. This is partially because I don’t think I’ve completely processed it, but also because I haven’t figured out how it fits into the narrative of my life story.

The Incident in Question

When I was 22, I was living on my own for the first time in my life in Portland, Maine. It’s a fun city, and as close to cosmopolitan as you get north of Boston. I had recently been named editor of a B2B trade paper covering the burgeoning high-tech sector of Northern New England. This was about 2-3 years before the dot-com explosion took a nose-dive.

I had to regularly attend tech networking events, and among those in Portland, I ran into a lot of the same people. As a single guy on the lookout for dating opportunities, these were mostly dry wells, as the women were usually double my age, married and with children. However, I did bump into a woman I’ll call Ann, multiple times.

Ann was about my age, maybe a year or two older. She was a bigger girl with naturally bright red hair, bordering on orange. Ann seemed sweet enough, although a bit socially inept, although at networking events with high-tech types, social ineptness was the norm.

After one of our conversations about a mutual enjoyment of tennis despite a lack of motor skills, we agreed to meet in the park to play after work later that week. As expected, neither of us brought a lot to our games, but it was a chance to hang out and converse in a non-professional environment.

We played three or four times before I recognized that this was just somebody I would not be pursuing romantically. I didn’t find her physically attractive and while she was fun to be around, I thought we clearly lacked a necessary spark. After one of our games, she suggested that we both go home, take showers, change and reconvene at her house where she’d make us dinner and she’d pick something up at the video store for us to watch. With no ulterior motives, I agreed and about 90 minutes later, I arrived at her apartment house.

She was just finishing making dinner when I got there. We ate and then made our way to the living room. She got us each a beer and popped whatever movie she rented into the VCR.

My next memory is laying on my back in a bed, both of us naked, with her straddled atop of me. She was placing my limp hands on her breasts and clearly enjoying herself. I blacked out again.

The next memory is waking up in her bed with the clock reading 4:30 in the morning. I was groggy, but since I was laying on the outside, I was able to get out of bed, and gather my clothes from her floor and make my way out of her room.

I dressed in her kitchen and left her apartment. She sent me an email later that day at work telling me she had a good time and hoped we could play tennis later in the week. I agreed, but we never conversed, nor saw each other again. I didn’t even see her at networking events.

Making Sense of Things

My theory is that she spiked the beer and before I was completely unconscious, she led me back to her room where she had her way with me. From an objective point of view, especially if I reverse the gender roles in the situation, it’s hard to not call this experience a rape.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t believe I carry a lot of baggage because of it and I wonder why. The few people I’ve told about this usually look on with horror as I get to the end of the story and uniformly agree it was sexual assault.

I know how many rape victims suffer some kind of PTSD or other trauma from their experience – and while I have both from other incidents in my life – I question why it feels like this one didn’t cause an emotional or mental scar. Isn’t being sexually violated supposed to shake you to the core?

I never consented to having sex with this young woman, nor would I have as I just didn’t find her attractive. She coerced me into it without my approval. That is, technically, rape.

Did this have any subconscious effect on my developing pornography and alcohol addictions at the time, or play any role 15 years later as other repressed memories aided in me spiraling out of control?

Is it possible that this could just be “something that happened to me” and there is no deeper meaning, context or result? I’ve never felt anger or hate toward Ann. It’s more a sense of pity and confusion. I don’t think there’s any answer to “Why did you do that to me?” that I need to hear for any kind of closure. Maybe I shrug off the women-rapes-man dynamic we rarely hear about. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a child. I just don’t know why I don’t feel more of…something.

Perhaps the biggest scar this incident left is the notion that something is wrong with me for not feeling more deeply about what happened. Maybe someday a door will open in my mind that gives the situation a deeper meaning and context, but for now it’s just going to remain an enigma. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.

‘Radical Acceptance’ Has Been Crucial to My Successful Addiction Recovery

One of the more important tools I developed in recovery has been the practice of radical acceptance. I was once called out for not having any radical acceptance ability when I was in rehab and it forced me to reflect on the accusation.

Several of the residents were allowed to attend an “outside” 12-step meeting, meaning they went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting off the rehab property with regular community members. On their way back, they stopped off at a store and bought candy and energy drinks, which were both forbidden at the rehab. Their car was searched upon return and the contraband was discovered.

The next day, at our large group morning meeting, one of the counselors told us because of the actions of those four residents, all visitor’s passes would be cancelled the following weekend.

A few of the residents who had family or friends visiting got visibly upset and/or angry.

“This is meant to make you all accountable to one another,” the counselor told the group. “It’s a skill you need to develop. If you were in an office and one of your co-workers was flaunting the rules, your co-workers would come together and set them straight.”

I had always thought I had an overdeveloped sense of justice/injustice, and it was going off like a light on top of a firetruck. I couldn’t stand to see many of my friends denied visits with their families.

“Your rationalization is bullshit,” I said loudly.

“What is that, Mr. Shea?” the counselor asked.

“That’s a pathetic rationalization. First, if we were co-workers, that person would get fired. The entire team wouldn’t. Sure, we could complain to the boss about them, but none of us even knew what these guys did. Second, making each other accountable isn’t actually the way the world works. That’s why we have police and the legal system. We don’t punish all of society for one person’s wrongs.”

“Mr. Shea, do you family visiting you?” the counselor asked.

“No, they’re all in California or the northeast. They’re not flying to Texas to see me,” I explained.

“Then why does this particular situation concern you?” she asked.

“Because it’s not fair,” I said. “It’s not fair to the people who have family and friends coming.”

“Yet none of them are talking,” she said. “It’s you, who doesn’t even have a stake in this.”

“Whatever,” I said, and let it go, seething silently.

It kind of bothered me none of the people affected spoke up. It bothered me even more when a few hours later, I saw them joking and laughing with each other – and the counselor who delivered the news. It dawned on me that I was more upset about a situation that had no bearing on me whatsoever, than people who were directly involved. Something didn’t make sense about it.

Later that day, I sought out that counselor and told her that while the (in my eyes) unjust punishment was still bothering me, the others seemed to move on, and I didn’t understand how they could just do that.

She told me that she knew I believed I had a strong sense of justice and injustice, but she recognized it for what it was. It was really about power and control. I disagreed, but she pointed out as long as it was my allies, I was fine with other people in control, but the moment someone had it and I felt threatened, I confused it with injustice.

“You know you’re probably going to see a little jail time for what you did, right?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I explained. “Technically, I already pled guilty, but when I get home, they’ll look at the fact I went here and to another rehab for alcoholism and that I’m in therapy…”

“You’ll probably do 6 to 12 months,” she interrupted.

“My lawyer is hoping for no time,” I said.

“They always hope for that, and I hope you get no time, but if you do, be prepared that there is nothing you can do about it,” she said.

I looked at her somewhat blankly not wanting to admit she was correct.

“Do you know why none of your friends are still freaking out about their visitors? They’ve learned to practice radical acceptance. That’s where sometimes, no matter what happens, you’re not in control and you just have to accept it and move on.”

It took some reflection, but I was able to recognize plenty of times in my life that I tried to manipulate a situation I didn’t want to accept under the guise of injustice. I also recognized how many times I ended up begrudgingly accepting something I couldn’t control, and how when I finally let it go, it rarely stuck with me very long.

As I’ve made my way through recovery, I’ve done a lot of reading about radical acceptance. That counselor simplified the concept. For me, what’s it really about is the pain and suffering that comes from not being in control.

When I don’t let something I can’t control go, I suffer more pain than if I just moved on. Refusing to accept the pain by refusing to let things go just brings additional suffering, and who really wants that?

About eight months after my conversation with the counselor, I got a sentence of nine months (of which I served six.) As the judge was reading her verdict, a bit of a calm came over me. I now knew what my punishment would be, and I was at peace with it because there wasn’t anything I could do about it and it would be a waste of time to try.

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean being lazy. It doesn’t give an excuse to not standing up against the real injustices of the world, but for people who were power-hungry control freaks like I was, it’s a way to gain perspective.

 

Compartmentalizing is a Myth

I was reminded today of one of those “a-ha!” moments that came often in early recovery when somebody I work with through my PornAddictCounseling.org site talked about how he always found life easier when he could compartmentalize. It wasn’t until near the end of my stay at inpatient rehab for porn addiction that I realized the concept of compartmentalizing is a lie addicts tell themselves.

My life prior to recovery was all about the façade of compartmentalization. I had my professional life, my political life, my family-at-home life, my extended family life, my addicted life, and the life that existed inside my head.

It got so bad, I was hiding every compartment from every other for no rational reason. For instance, in the six months or so prior to my crash, I began calling bingo numbers at a nursing home near where I worked. Every Tuesday for about 90 minutes, I’d make an excuse to my co-workers that I had to be somewhere, but I never told them where. I never mentioned to my wife and kids that I called the numbers and it wasn’t like I was seeking any kind of attention or accolades for volunteering.

I remember at the time thinking that I just wanted to do something nice as anonymously as I could. Every movement I made professional or politically seemed so calculating, and even those that weren’t probably came across that way, so I just wanted something for myself. I didn’t want the rest of the pieces of my life knowing anything about it.

It was the same way for the pornography, and for the most part, the alcoholism. Except for the final month or two, I never looked at pornography during the day. It was always very late at night, after everybody in my house went to bed. Yes, I drank at lunch, at work social functions, and would drink at home in the evening, but no one compartment of my life saw the drinking in its totality.

The reality is, my addicted life was not a compartment at all. It had to do with the stress of the other compartments. My extended family life compartment had a lot to do with things that existed inside of my head from years earlier. My professional life and political life compartments were escapes from the compartments I didn’t want to deal with.

The truth is, there are no compartments. Instead of looking at life as a series of boxes, each with its own positives and negatives, life is more like a spider web. While two points may seem very far apart, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the path from Point A to Point B.

I was the way I was – and am the way I am today – because of how all of my experiences and thoughts affect one another. Trying to neatly organize them is a fool’s errand. There is no compartmentalization. That’s just a coping mechanism that allowed me to try to turn my life into bite-sized portions that I could easily control. As a whole, I knew I was out of control, but I convinced myself that I could manage the compartments.

The next time you find yourself compartmentalizing, stop and ask yourself what it’s all about and how what you’re doing really affects the other aspects of your life. Everything is connected. We don’t live in a series of several vacuums. Understand, appreciate and deal with the fact that your life is a single entity, not compartments.

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.

 

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.

I’ve Returned After Dealing with A Mental Health Crisis

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything here. I promised myself that I wouldn’t post just for the sake of it as a New Year’s resolution and unlike just about every other resolution, I really seem to be sticking to it…maybe almost too much.

Most of my absence over the last month-and-a-half has to do with the fact that I have been battling a bout of anxiety unlike I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve always been an anxious person, but this involved things that I could intellectually recognize were false – like my sudden aversion to make left turns in the car – but I still had crippling fear. Thankfully, my doctor put me on two new medications and they appear to be starting to work in earnest.

I stay on top of my mental health these days as if it were a full-time job. I’m 43 years old now and was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder at 22 and bipolar disorder at 26. While I was in and out of therapy and generally took medication as prescribed, I was not militant in watching my mental health, especially in my mid-30s.

Instead of making sure my mental health was taken care of – and taking steps to correct it if not – I used my addictions to pornography and alcohol as the crutches to get me through the tough days. The stress and anxiety I felt in life was like a fire and my addictions were a bucket of water used to temporarily extinguish them.

Except it wasn’t a bucket of water. It was more like a bucket of gasoline. And with years and years of throwing gasoline on that fire, it was destined to eventually burn out of control.

That inferno came to a head five years ago last week, when I was arrested for crossing the line in looking at pornography that strayed from “young woman” to “older girl.” I never would have ever guessed I could be the kind of person who crosses past the line of legality, but I was at the end of a long run of not taking care of mental health.

I look back to that day and while it was the rock bottom moment of my life, I also wonder how much further rock bottom would have got had it not been for the police intervention. I wonder if I’d actually be here today or if my addictions would have led me to an early death.

The best thing for me to do a month ago was step away from my work, step away from this blog and simply focus on my mental health. My therapist put it to me so I didn’t feel guilty shying away from my usual responsibilities. She said that if I had broken both of my hands, I’d simply need to sit there and let them heal before I moved forward. Since I was in a time of crisis with my mental health, I needed to simply sit there and heal before I moved forward. Just because you can see the broken hands but not the broken mind doesn’t mean it’s equally as important to let heal.

I urge you if you think you have any mental health issues to see your primary care physician to discuss it and potentially get referred to a therapist or psychiatrist. There is no shame in taking care of yourself mentally, and as I showed from my neglect, the consequences can be damning.

 

Brody Stevens Made Me Feel Better About Myself When I Needed It

Lost in the news of the oversexed (R. Kelly, Robert Kraft) on Friday, there was a small celebrity news item that if you blinked you missed it. A minorly famous comic, Brody Stevens, took his own life in Los Angeles at the age of 48.

In early June 2014, I was only two days out of a 70-day stay at a Palm Springs rehab center for my alcoholism when my brother, who lived in L.A., suggested we go to The Comedy Store to see that night’s showcase.

One-by-one, the comics (including Marc Maron and SNL’s Leslie Jones) did their sets. Brody Stevens came on as the last comic of the night. I knew him from The Hangover and little things he’d done on Comedy Central, but mostly from having read about him recently having had a meltdown on a Twitter, scaring those in the comedy world for threatening suicide via social media.

I knew the tradition at The Comedy Store was that the last comic was allowed to go as long as they wanted. By the time he took the stage, probably only 40 people were left in the crowd. By the time he left the stage over an hour later, shortly after midnight, about 10 of us were left.

He did the most non-traditional set I’d ever seen in that he didn’t tell a single joke. I don’t think I laughed in that 70 or 80 minutes once.

Instead of telling jokes, he acted as a sort of group therapy facilitator for those of us who were left in the crowd, asking questions about people’s lives and providing feedback.

I was one of the people who he talked with first, when I hesitantly raised my hand after he asked who was on medication for their mental health. In most scenarios, opening yourself up like that to a comic on stage is license for ridicule.

Instead, he shared what medication he was on at that point and how it was affecting him. After learning I was from Maine, he asked what I was doing in L.A.

Now, keep in mind, I’d just done 70 difficult days at rehab, having left home after getting arrested in a major scandal. To say I was fragile and still processing things was an understatement. I didn’t know if I wanted to open myself up, but I figured they preached living an honest life in rehab, so I should do it in front of this small group at a famous L.A. comedy club.

“I just finished two months at a rehab in Palm Springs,” I said.

“Congratulations! That’s awesome, my friend! My mom lives in Palm Springs!” he said, excitedly. “I’m going to visit her on Thursday and get a massage at Massage Envy while I’m there. You see, we have more connections! That’s what this is all is about. It’s about connections.”

After another minute he moved onto others, playing a game of invisible catch with one young audience member and counseling a fellow comic who was having a rough, drunken night to name but two of his other interactions.

When the show was over, my brother and I agreed it was the most unorthodox, yet extraordinary set we’ve ever seen. It has stuck with me like few other performances I’ve ever seen, even to this day.

Brody Stevens was right about life being all about making connections. He was able to make a connection with every person who stayed in the room that night. It didn’t matter there was only 10 of us around at the end. It was something special to behold.

While I now am pretty much an open book to people who ask about my story, I wasn’t back then. I didn’t know how to deal with my issues in a public forum or what I should tell people. Brody Stevens was the first person who made me realize I didn’t need to be afraid to share my story.

It really made me sad to see that, according to reports, he’d told comics he’d pulled himself off of his meds not too long ago because it dulled his creativity. It clearly also reawakened the mental health demons he wrestled with. He hung himself on Friday, unable to cope any longer.

I was struck by how many very famous comedians told stories about Stevens in the day or two after his death on social media. Despite not making it to those levels of fame, he clearly entertained and touched those who did get lucky in a way few of their fellow comics can.

I’ll never get to see Brody Stevens perform a second time. I’m just grateful I got the first.