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.

 

Reflecting on the Third Anniversary of My Time in Jail

It feels a little strange to recognize the anniversary of something that was so life-altering, but tomorrow, January 22, 2019, marks the three-year anniversary of the day I went to jail. I ended up serving 27 weeks which were among the most definitive of my life.

I ended up there because in late 2013, I made the heinous, reprehensible mistake of engaging a teenage girl online in a chat room. It doesn’t matter that I was an alcoholic, off my bipolar meds and generally watching my professional and personal worlds crumble. I made an error in judgment that I would never have made for 99.8% of my life.

The irony is that by the time I was sentenced, I’d spent the better part of two years in intense rehabilitation including two inpatient rehab stints, participation in 12-step groups and frequent one-on-one therapy sessions. The version of me that was sentenced by that judge in 2016 was the healthiest version I’d ever been.

I’m glad that I was healthy when I went to jail. If I had gone before my recovery truly had time to take root, I’m not sure I could have been so reflective with my time there. For me, jail was not hard time because I learned how to keep myself continually occupied. It was however, long time…and I think that’s the point. You get plenty of time to think.

In jail, nobody expects much out of you. You follow a few basic rules and that’s it. For some people, it drives them crazy. They literally pace the pod, taking 25 steps in one direction, turning around, taking 25 more and doing this for hours at a time. Others play cards, wagering their dinnertime desserts just to make things interesting. Meanwhile, others will veg out in front of the television, ironically watching marathons of Cops.

I did a lot of reading and wrote several books, including the one that a publisher picked up last year. I probably averaged 10 hours a day of reading or writing. While it was nice to have the time to get done two things I’d been neglecting for years, I felt a little like Burgess Meredith on that one episode of The Twilight Zone where all he ever wanted to do was be left alone to read, and when his end-of-the-world wish came true, he accidentally stepped on his glasses.

There were many occasions where I would just stop and look around at the other nine or ten men sharing this small space with me and say the words to myself, “I am currently in jail.” It remains as surreal now as it was then. The script my parents wrote for my life and tried to have me internalize at a young age did not include incarceration.

I said earlier I don’t make excuses and try not to minimize nor rationalize my crime. The one caveat I do make is that I know if I had been aware of pornography addiction or had someone called my growing use of pornography in those final years to my attention, I may not have ended up where I did. My addiction – one I never tried to control – led to my going to jail.

For those reading this who think to themselves, “There’s nothing wrong with looking at pornography a couple times a week or a few times a month,” just please recognize, I once held that belief as well. I couldn’t see the evolution from an ongoing addiction to a critical-phase addiction.

I got a lot of time to think about my poor choices and poor health management while I was in jail. You may think it’s impossible that you’ll ever end up there, but I am proof anything is possible when it comes to an insidious addiction. You’ve been warned.

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.

Spotting the Signs of Pornography Addiction, Updated

I’m putting a new introduction and conclusion on this blog entry, but the meat of it ran on December 11, 2017. It is the most frequently viewed article on this site and really speaks to the reason I put the site up in the first place.

Porn addiction is a very real thing. Since this blog first appeared, the World Health Organization finally included Sexual Impulse Disorder among its diagnosable conditions in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) guidebook used by mental health clinicians worldwide. Hopefully the American Psychiatric Association will update their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders (DSM), which tends to be favored by American clinicians (and insurance companies) when it comes to this disease.

Porn addiction really is a disease, and like any disease, there are stages. Addiction.com came up with a list talking about the stages of porn addiction. Looking back, I can see my journey through all three stages clear as crystal.

Early Warning Signs

  • Lying about, keeping secrets about and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if confronted about the nature or extent of porn use
  • Sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and an inability to reach orgasm

I had girlfriends who hated everything about porn and those who didn’t. It didn’t matter to me. I’d deny to both that I looked at the stuff. I had folders for my folders on my computer. As a young guy in my early 20s, when I was with a female sexually for the first time, I almost uniformly was never able to perform to completion, unless I did it myself. I was intimidated by the fact I didn’t have the full control of the situation as I did with pornography. It was scary to let myself go. I would have to think of porn and think of what we were doing in terms of porn to perform. By the second or third encounter, it was not like real-life porn anymore because with traditional porn, it’s one-and-done.

Ongoing Signs

  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use, with hours and sometimes even days lost to pornography
  • An inability to form lasting social and intimate romantic relationships
  • Intense feelings of depression, shame and isolation
  • Disintegration of relationships with family, friends and romantic partners
  • Loss of interest in non-porn activities such as work, school, socializing, family and exercise

The pattern for my intimate relationships that lasted longer than a couple of months featured a dramatic drop in physical intimacy after the initial rush was gone. With porn, everything was new every time. After the 100th intimate encounter with a girlfriend, you know how the movie ends. I never allowed my physical relationships to become emotionally or spiritually intimate. I equated intercourse with only physical pleasure, because that’s all porn was to me.

Other signs were that I would look forward to people being out of the house so I could look at porn, or planning to watch later when I wasn’t at home yet. Watching regular TV was a trigger if I saw an actress and wondered if she’d done any nude scenes in the past. I couldn’t wait to do the research online to find out.

Critical Signs

  • Viewing progressively more intense or bizarre sexual content
  • Escalation from two-dimensional porn viewing to use of technology for casual, anonymous or paid-for sexual encounters, whether in-person or via Webcams
  • Trouble at work or in school (including reprimands and/or dismissal) related to poor performance, misuse of company/school equipment and/or public use of porn
  • Physical injury caused by compulsive masturbation
  • Financial issues
  • Legal issues (usually related to illegal porn use)

This is my crash. Ignoring a crumbling business, ignoring my psych meds, not getting any sleep, allowing my alcoholism to rule me, being up at 3 a.m. so I can talk to women in chatrooms…eventually leading to convincing a teenage girl to expose herself. I lost my job, I went to jail for six months and I’ll be on the sex offender registry for life.

The critical signs and that type of behavior lasted only a couple of months in a 25-year stretch of looking at porn, back to me being a kid. But as with most diseases, when it gets critical, things go downhill fast.

I look back on this article 13 months after I initially posted it and can even more recognize my life during those stages. The further I get down the recovery road, the more surprising it is that I didn’t recognize a problem sooner. I guess my alcoholism, mainly because of the attention it gets from the mainstream, grabbed my attention.

Well over 1,000 people looked at the first version of this article. I hope that they walked away with the two points I’ve consistently tried to make about pornography addiction: First, it can happen to anyone. There is not stereotypical addict. I could line 10 people up and tell you to pick the five addicts and it would be an exercise in futility. Second, if you have a problem, get some help. It’s OK to admit that you can’t do this on your own. The most important thing is you get up before things get to that critical point. If they can get critical for me, they can get critical for everyone.

Since this article went up, I’ve appeared on around 60 podcasts, radio and TV shows talking about pornography addiction, sharing many of these warning signs. Hopefully it’s done some good. If you’d like to check any of them out, visit HERE. As for seeking help, or simply to learn more about the addiction, check out the RESOURCES page and if that doesn’t do it for you, just contact me directly HERE.

 

Q&A Time: Even if Porn Addict Husband Doesn’t Go To Therapy, Should I?

QUESTION: My husband has told me that he looks at pornography, and he will stop. I’ve suggested couple’s counseling or even individual sessions and he has said no. I read an online board that says I should still go by myself. Can that really help anything?

ANSWER: I don’t think it will come as any shock to you that I answer this with a resounding “Yes!” It may not directly help with his pornography addiction since it sounds like he hasn’t actually accepted it as a problem. That may just take some time.

Get a therapist…and be honest with your therapist.

I believe that even though I wasn’t 100% honest with my therapists through my 20s and early 30s, they were still instrumental in helping me get through some of the challenges I faced that had nothing to do with my addictions. There is something powerful about somebody who is there to advocate for you, is rooting for you, but isn’t emotionally involved, nor plays an active role in your everyday real life.

The relationship between a therapist and patient is unique and unlike any other. I think most people fear going to a therapist because they think it will be a complete bearing of their deepest secrets and simply by the act of seeing a therapist, it must mean there is something wrong.

I wish that I could go back to the beginning when I was 20 years old when the therapist inevitably asked me if there was any sexual dysfunction, I could say, “I have been renting porno movies or buying Playboy every month since I was 14 years old.” I don’t know what I thought the blowback would be. They weren’t going to kick me out of their office.

But, like so many guys who believed porn was something to be ashamed of and that I was just walking around with this invisible black cloud of perversion over my head, I kept my mouth quiet when it came to the pornography. I didn’t talk about any of my sexual hang-ups, either. I just said everything was fine and complained about work or my parents.

Would I have ended up behind bars if I had been honest with my therapist in my 20s? Honestly, I don’t think so. Part of the reason my addiction festered into a nasty wound was because I never had the salve of a professional’s ear. That’s on me, not them.

A therapist is a great sounding board and somebody who isn’t going to take it personally when you get mad or start crying or blurting things that you can’t believe are coming out of your mouth because you’ve tried to suppress them for so long. A therapist is going to know the next thing to say to keep things moving in the right direction.

I will mention that not counting the pair of couple’s counselors that my wife and I saw, I’ve seen five therapists, but I say I’ve only had two. I probably saw the other three a combined eight times.

If you’re not clicking with a therapist, find someone else. In your case, it would help if you could talk to someone who has experience working with relationships and hopefully has some experience in dealing with addiction, even if it is drugs and alcohol. Your personalities must mesh and there needs to be the opportunity for a level of trust to develop. You’re wasting your time if you don’t have a bond, or at least I was.

Ironically, the therapist I have now who has seen me through all of my recovery is the first woman I’ve seen. I never would have guessed it, but it isn’t an older man who I clicked with, but a woman only a couple years older than me.

You’re going to learn a lot about yourself in therapy you never otherwise would have. I wholeheartedly endorse therapy for anyone with a pulse.


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.

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.