Sorry, But There Was No Thrill In My Addiction

I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great resource for pornography addiction information. However, much like statistics that peg the porn industry worth anywhere between $2 billion and $200 billion (just a slight discrepancy there), I’m starting to bump into information provided from professionals that I think is just flat-out wrong.

This morning, I was scrolling through the feed and there was a short video from an Australian health professional. The video’s thesis was that “the thrill” that comes with looking at porn and masturbating makes the addiction even worse.

The thrill?

At first I thought it may be an Australian colloquialism for the physical pleasure that comes with an orgasm, but that’s not it. This person believes that there is a genuine thrill associated with succumbing to the addiction on a regular basis. Aside from the slight rush of adrenaline that came with porn viewing when I was afraid of getting caught by my parents more than 25 years ago, I don’t recall watching porn ever being a fun, exciting experience. It was a necessity. Despite trying to stimulate my dopamine receptors, there wasn’t a lot of pleasure in it.

The thrill?

Try the shame.

I didn’t want anybody to know about my addiction and in all truth, I never really faced up to my addiction or called it such while I was locked in the battle between my brain and the computer screen. There was nothing thrilling about that. It made me feel bad. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with anything. I felt like I had a dirty little secret.

Here’s my guess: This person has probably never been addicted to anything. I’ve met plenty of ex-alcoholics and ex-drug users at the rehabs I’ve been to who work in the field, but there was also plenty of people who weren’t. Usually these people love to tell you they’re in recovery and this person didn’t do that in the video.

I’m guessing they associates caving to your addiction, even though you don’t want to, as something “naughty.” There’s a big chasm between naughty and shameful. Having a piece of cake at the restaurant with dinner when you’re on a diet is naughty. Going home and binging on the cake in the fridge because you can’t stop yourself is shameful. Promising yourself you’d only lose $100 when you visit the casino, but you lose $120 is naughty. Losing $1,000 and only stopping because you’re broke is shameful. Sneaking a 5-second peek of a pornographic website at work or when other people are in the room is naughty. Waiting for everybody to go to sleep because you NEED hours to look at porn is shameful.

I know if this person was my therapist, we would not click. I also know that I would leave this person after probably only one or two sessions. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who stick with their therapists because they feel like it’s a relationship where the client doesn’t have the control. A therapist you can’t work well with is not a therapist worth keeping.

I’m sure this person probably gets through to some of their clients and I’m sure they’ve helped a lot of people, but hearing that there was a thrill to my addiction made me shake my head.

That’s not a thrill. That’s shame.

Trying to Figure Out Why Local Election Results Tweaked My PTSD

Sometimes I wonder when I’m having a legitimate PTSD moment and when it’s just a combination of anxiety and borderline nausea. Last night, I think I had a PTSD episode looking at local election results.

I didn’t feel off because of any specific results. I, more than anyone, know how insignificant one person is in the vast machine known as our government. I’m not sure exactly why I had a physical and mental reaction, but I’m a writer, so I’ll work it out on the page.

In 2011, when I made the decision to run for the city council in Auburn, Maine, I thought that I could try to move the city in a more forward-thinking direction. Between my city and the one next door, we are the second-highest population density in Maine. The first, Portland, is a progressive city where things like art, culture and a view toward the future is a good thing. Here, not so much. I think most believe our best days are long behind us. The magazine I launched two years earlier was trying to change that mindset and I thought being on the City Council would also help.

I’m not going to deny that I knew being on the City Council would also raise my name recognition if I won. I really didn’t aspire to any higher office, but then again, I’d never made many plans in life, just going with the flow and seizing opportunity where I saw it. If nothing else, running would give me a good gauge of how popular I currently was.

I won, defeating the other four candidates with only one, a long-serving incumbent, coming close. It was needed validation that I was as awesome as I tried to convince myself.

The experience serving was not good. As you have probably surmised about me, I like to be the one in control. It’s why I started companies and didn’t work for other people. It’s why I now work from home. Being an equal part of a team, especially one as divided as that City Council, wasn’t fun. I had very little respect for a couple of the members as I was going into office and that number only grew during my tenure.

With my socially liberal, fiscally conservative bent, I usually ended up being the tie-breaker on a lot of 3-3 votes. Ironically, in the voting order, I came last, so everybody saw it as me making the decision, and since I was the only one there who knew how to give a good soundbite to the media, it was always me that was quoted. I liked that power at first, but grew to hate it.

Despite the fact I showed up to most of the meetings in the second half of my two-year term borderline drunk (or full-on drunk), I didn’t like making decisions that either way, hurt people. I didn’t like making decisions that would leave one group of people angry at me and the other feeling like I was on their side. My wife knew that I’d come back from most meetings angry and sad.

With about six months left in my term in early 2013, ironically just as I was seriously descending into the worst of my porn and alcohol addictions, I made the announcement I was not running again on my Facebook page.

I didn’t regret stepping away as I secretly knew just how much my life was spinning out of control. There hasn’t been a day that I wished I was back there and with the exception of seeing the results last night, I don’t follow a damn thing they do in the news.

I’m so thankful I left the City Council before my arrest. I don’t know if it would have been any bigger a deal if I was actively serving, but amidst the clouded judgment I was showing at that time in my life, walking away after only one term was probably the smartest thing I did.

Maybe reading those results was a flashback to the night I won and was so smugly full of myself. I didn’t like that guy. I don’t attribute the City Council to my downfall, but maybe subconsciously I do think those long Monday nights contributed to my trip toward rock bottom. Maybe it reminds me that despite winning the seat, I felt like the time I served was a failure or it could be that it just shows this community marches on without me, never missing a beat, as if I never mattered at all. And while the magazine, film festival, co-workers, award ceremonies, friends, etc., are all gone, the City Council always remains.

I’m still processing why I had such a visceral reaction, but at least I’ll have something to talk about at therapy this week.

The term ‘Gaslighting’ Comes From a 1944 Best Picture Nominee, And I Can See Why

It’s been somewhat of an every-few-years tradition of mine to listen to War of the Worlds on Halloween night, ever since I stumbled upon it on the radio when I came back from an eighth-grade party where I kissed a girl for the first time. BTW, the mass hysteria we all have been retroactively led to believe happened that night, didn’t actually take place. The original broadcast of War of the Worlds, I mean. Not me kissing a girl. Although it was a phenomenon rarely duplicated in the next few years.  The War of the Worlds “hysteria” is a fascinating story, but you know how to use the Internet and I’m not wasting space here. Instead, for the first time, I watched a nominee for the 1944 Best Picture Oscar (based on a 1938 British play and remake of a 1940 British movie) that is probably better known for creating a key piece of the Addiction/Recovery/Betrayal Trauma lexicon: Gaslight.

Starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, it’s quite a far-fetched story, even for early cinema standards, and I’m not talking about the actual gaslighting that takes place. Any plot that involves assuming another person’s identity and jewel thieves automatically goes into the “ya, sure, whatever” category for me. That must be why I don’t like Nicholas Cage films.

The psychological part of the movie, however, is very well done, and it is indeed the place that we get the term “gaslighting” from. Boyer hatches a plan to make his wife, Bergman, think she’s going crazy, hoping it eventually results in eventual financial gain. He does this slowly by setting her up to believe she’s a kleptomaniac when in fact, he’s taking things and planting them on her. For good measure, he also deliberately dims the gas in the lights in their house. He insists he never touches them and claims they are always the same brightness, yet they get darker, night-by-night, contributing to Bergman’s self-doubt and belief she is losing her mind. Finally, Boyer flirts with the maid (played by Angela Lansbury, about 300 years before Murder She Wrote) in front of Bergman. Lansbury develops a bit of a disdain for Bergman because she reciprocates the flirting, but when Bergman brings it up to her husband, he again tells her that it’s all in her head.

You’ve had 75 years to see the movie, so I’m going to slightly ruin it. In the end, the husband is tied to a chair by police and Bergman’s learned about his deception…however, he can’t stop. When the police briefly leave the scene, Boyer tells Bergman to untie him so they can escape and be free together. She comes to her senses and lets the police take him away.

While it’s the Hollywood ending the viewer wants and can somewhat see coming a mile away, real life often doesn’t end like that and the gaslighting takes place over may years, not months. It’s not just pornography or sex addiction either. If there’s an addict in your life, there’s a gaslighter in your life.

I heard of cases much more worse than me when I was in rehab and recovery, but I think that’s because I had my hand involved in so many different things I didn’t have to convince any single person of anything too ridiculous. I didn’t spend enough time with any one person for them to get too close to my addictions.

My wife – just like with every couple that has a male addict – was the biggest victim of my gaslighting. Most of the time, it was convincing her that I wasn’t nearly as drunk as I was and fully capable of driving.

Occasionally, she would say things like, “I guess you don’t like us anymore” or “Nobody has to work that much.” I didn’t like anybody, especially myself, at that point, which is why I wanted to be alone. And she was right about how much I worked, but it was the only place I felt like I was in control of my life until the end. I always convinced her she was wrong and acted offended she’d even bring up such things. I even surprised myself  how often I was successful. The last person to say “sorry” loses and I was never the last person. Like I said, not the worst gaslighting stories, but I certainly knew the drill.

Manipulating someone into believing they’re the crazy one, to the point it becomes second nature: Yep, that’s gaslighting and now you know where the term came from.

While none of the Q&As I sometimes post on the site are in the Top 10 most popular you can find on the right side, the one that I wrote a while back about gaslighting is by far the most popular and talks more about the nuts-and-bolts of what it is. If you’d like to take a look at it, click HERE.

The Mental Health Breakdown I Still Can’t Figure Out

The therapy I’ve done that involves understanding how events in my life are connected and the role they play with each other in my mental, emotional and even physical life has been invaluable, but there are still things that are anomalies. This is one such story that I still can’t completely figure out.

This takes place almost immediately after The Suicide Story, but I don’t think there’s any connection. It was the first or second week of 2014 and unbeknownst to me, I was only about 12 weeks away from being arrested and my life forever changing.

Despite the fact that my magazine was falling apart, my addictions were running rampant and I was heavily involved in coordinating the next version of the large film festival I helped create, I decided to take a course at the local college.

The offer was too good to pass up. I was essentially handed a scholarship to take the class and all I had to do was give a speech at a “Return to College” event that was held annually in the area. I’d never finished college – barely got started, actually – and did dream of one day finishing. I figured even if it was only one course, it would put me that much closer to getting a diploma at some point in the far future.

I had a tremendous amount of anxiety walking into that classroom for the first time. I’d quit college three times to that point, although it had been 15 years since my last attempt. I was now one of the older students I always felt bad for in a sea of 19- and 20-year-olds. I liked the idea that these people didn’t run in the same circles as me. I wouldn’t be the magazine guy or the city councilor. I’d just be the old guy (37, but still old comparatively) in class.

It was an ethics class, and after the instructor introduced the idea of ethics vs. morals, she opened things up for discussion. I remember sitting there aghast at the naivete of the students. I knew they were young, but they really had no clue how the world worked. Instead of speaking up, which is my natural reaction, I kept quiet, observing what was going on around me. Later on, we were put into the groups we would be working with toward a massive final project at the end of the semester. They seemed nice enough, but I still felt so out of place.

When the syllabus was handed out, I saw the presentation for projects was to be done the first night of the film festival. I was not going to miss that, but didn’t want to tell the teacher right away for fear I’d be given an ultimatum and she’d get pissy I didn’t pick her course.

The class met once a week and in the six days in between, I didn’t do any of the reading in our textbook. I could make excuses I didn’t have time, but if I had time to cruise chat rooms in the middle of the night, I had time to read a couple chapters about ethics.

The following week, I pulled up to the building, walked in and proceeded to walk right by the classroom. I couldn’t force myself inside. I walked to the end of the hall and sat in a chair in a lounge area to catch my breath. I psyched myself up to enter the room, got out of the chair, walked down that hall and…walked right by the classroom again, out the front door of the building and into my Jeep.

I couldn’t quite explain it, but the anxiety and fear I felt was overwhelming. I decided to go back to the office and try to forget about what happened. On my way to the office, I got nabbed for speeding. I’m not a speeder and in 30 years of driving have only been stopped one other time.

The officer came to the car, asked if I knew why he stopped me and I immediately burst into tears. He knew who I was and wasn’t expecting that response. Looking back, I think it really threw him. He asked what was wrong and I didn’t get into details, but just said my life was falling apart around me and all I could do was watch. I think it was the first time I’d said anything like that out loud to someone. He asked me to gather myself before I kept going and just to drive safely.

I didn’t do any of the reading that week either. I believe I sent the teacher a note with some BS excuse why I didn’t attend class.

I got myself ready for class the following week, spending a little extra time beforehand on the mental side of things. I was going to walk through that door, put last week behind me and become a contributing member of that class.

I couldn’t even get myself out the Jeep. I was sitting in the parking lot, crying as hard as I did when the cop stopped me a week earlier. I probably sat there for 20 minutes before deciding to call it a day and just head home. I didn’t have these outbursts other times during that time period. Just when the cop stopped me and when I was in the school parking lot. A few days later, I called the organization that awarded me the scholarship and told them that my schedule wouldn’t allow me to continue with class and offered to pay them back.

To this day, I still don’t know what happened there. I have a lot of theories:

  • Going back to school conjured up memories of never finishing
  • I was simply too scared to be in a room where I stuck out like a sore thumb
  • My schedule was too full and this was just an involuntary reaction – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back
  • I’ve always disliked school and felt vulnerable not being in control of the classroom the way I was in control with my professional endeavors at the time
  • I feared it would be all for naught if I wasn’t there to give my final project presentation – I’d fail
  • I had some sixth sense that my life was about to come crashing down – in reality I never would have finished the class after my arrest

Truthfully, I have no idea what happened here, but my reaction was way over-the-top considering the situation. Granted, I wasn’t healthy at the time, but I wasn’t having this reaction to everything happening in my life. I don’t know if I threw in the towel before I started, after that first week, when I couldn’t get through the classroom door of the second week or when I couldn’t even get out of the car in week three.

This incident still leaves me scratching my head. I don’t know that it would have any profound effect on my life today figuring it out, but it’s one of those things I’d still like to understand.

 

Do Not Waste Your Time at a Therapist You Feel No Connection With

I just came back from my therapist’s office after our first meeting in nearly a month. We had to cancel an appointment from two weeks ago for whatever reason, and I think it’s been the longest gap between appointments we’ve had since I started seeing her in late March 2014.

She’s not the first therapist I’ve ever had, but she’s the best and I know that I would not have been able to process the boatload of mental health and experiential baggage I brought to the table following my arrest with just anybody else.

The first time I was seen in a formal therapy setting was in 1996, shortly after one of my best friends was killed by a drunk driver. The therapist let me ramble for a few weeks, wrote some stuff down, but after a month or so of grieving, I recognized this guy, at least 30 years my senior, was no help at all. I could have been talking to a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan and got the same feedback.

In 2000, I went back to therapy, with an overall feeling something was wrong. He diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, which was just the tip of the iceberg of diagnoses to come, but I connected with him in a weird way. He was always telling me about his problems, which were way worse than mine. I was 24 at the time and he was probably 15 years older. It seemed like he made many choices in life he wished he could backtrack on, but didn’t have the courage. I saw him for about a year, took about six months off, then saw him for another year. This was around the time I was put on medication for bipolar disorder.

I had another 6-week stint with a therapist around 2005. He mostly wanted to talk about football and I probably wasn’t completely into it either, complaining of general malaise, but unsure what the real issues were and not in a place to delve too deeply.

And while I mostly stayed on my meds, I went almost the next 10 years without seeing a therapist. I had determined that my problems where chemical, not emotional. While the second guy was some help, I told myself that I’d never received that “magic bullet” piece of advice that would turn my life completely around, so clearly therapists didn’t “get me” and it was a waste of time.

I was referred to my current therapist immediately after I was arrested by the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. I learned years later that I wasn’t supposed to end up with her, as I was referred to someone else in her office. As the owner of the practice, she seemed interested in the brief bit she heard of my story and took me on.

I only saw her twice before I went off to rehab for alcoholism. The last thing she said to me was “Do me a favor and give it a chance.” Those words stuck with me and I don’t know if I would have come to terms with being an alcoholic as quickly without that advice.

Early on, the work was intense. I’d see her either twice a week for an hour, or once for two hours. There are benefits and drawbacks to each set-up. We’d talk about things I learned at my two rehabs, go over my mental health history, and talk about how my experiences in life led me to where I was at the time. It was very tough work a lot of the time. I think she’s seen me cry more than anybody else in the last 35 years. Two years after first meeting her, when it was time to do my six months in jail, I was a healthier version of myself than I’d ever been, with her deserving a lot of the credit.

She testified in my favor at the sentencing and visited me in jail. I resumed a steady schedule of therapy upon release and although it was part of my probation conditions, it’s not like I would have stopped seeing her. Off probation now, I’m still not quitting.

As I’ve continued to move in healthier directions, writing books and trying to educate about porn addiction, she’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders and I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to keep going if she didn’t boost me up from time to time.

I read so much about people who are just not connecting with their therapist. I have to admit, I was not always 100% open and honest about everything with my former therapists, so some of the problem was likely me. With my current therapist, I can tell her anything, even things that are uncomfortable and shameful.

I wouldn’t have ever thought a woman who’s only three or four years older than me would be the one I clicked with, but she was the one. Her practice has expanded mightily to several offices over the last few years and despite transitioning most of her client load, she was gracious enough to continue seeing me. That meant a lot as I can’t imagine the time it would take to not only get up to speed with another therapist, but also be lucky enough to make that connection.

If you’re not connecting with your therapist, and you’ve given it four or five sessions, stop wasting your time. Just because they have some letters after their name does not mean they are instantly the perfect one for you. I needed someone who asked a lot of questions and who understands my strange sense of humor. I needed someone who shared a bit about her life, but didn’t make it about her. I didn’t want someone who ended every session with “homework.” I didn’t do my homework in high school, what makes you think I’m going to do it now?

She’s never given me the “magic bullet” piece of advice to change everything for the better. She helped me learn it doesn’t exist. While I don’t need the intense therapy I had early in recovery, it’s reassuring to know we can check-in every 2 or 3 weeks, even if it’s just for chit-chat. Hopefully that will continue for many years to come.

Find a therapist you connect with because it will make a world of difference. It did for me.

Q&A Time: Did Bipolar Disorder Cause My Alcoholism and Porn Addiction

QUESTION: I read your blog on bipolar disorder the other day. Do you think your bipolar disorder caused your porn and alcohol addictions?

ANSWER: I think it certainly played a role. It doesn’t dismiss the fact that I got myself lost in the addictions, but to deny that there wasn’t some influence is ludicrous.

When you’re an addict and have mental health issues, it’s called having co-occurring disorders. It’s not rare. More than half of drug addicts and around 40% of alcoholics have co-occurring disorders. I have not found statistics on porn/sex, gambling or video game addiction.

An important revelation I’ve come to accept during recovery is that everything is connected in our lives.

I became an addict because I had some childhood trauma, which stunted development of certain coping skills. I became an addict because of a rich history of addiction on both sides of my family. I became an addict because I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt so different than my peers. I became an addict because despite being properly educated on the danger, I had a bit of a defiant, curious, pleasure-seeking personality that was open to trying anything.

But then again, maybe all those things happened because of the bipolar disorder, or both.

I have a chicken-and-egg debate with myself about whether I entered the critical phase of addiction because I stopped taking my bipolar medication or whether I stopped taking my bipolar medication because I entered the critical phase of addiction.

At that point, my sleep tumbled to 2-3 hours per night, my relationships with family and business partners grew distant and strained, my physical appearance became of little concern and I eventually stopped caring about almost everything. Was that because I was a critical addict or because I was mentally ill?

I think you’d need a pie chart to graphically represent what led to me being who I was. I don’t know what the biggest piece would have been. Some might have labeled me as an addict, some may have labeled me as mentally ill while others would have just labeled me as somebody they didn’t want to be around because of those other little parts of the pie chart put together. It doesn’t matter really. It was all connected.

As somebody who had already been in and out of therapy for several years prior to accepting my porn and alcohol addictions, I knew that not only would I have to get help for the addictions, but the therapy was going to have to not only continue at a higher frequency, but start exploring my life in a different direction. I needed to learn how to manage my mental health and addictions. I had to have co-occurring solutions to co-occurring disorders.

Sadly, only 7-10 percent of people suffering from co-occurring disorders get help for both simultaneously. Unfortunately, most therapists who deal with the kind of mental health issues that come with bipolar disorder are not schooled in addiction counseling or solutions, and vice versa. At the first rehab I went to for alcoholism, they’d basically start shutting you down if you talked about other facets of mental health.

This question was part of a much larger email from the person who wanted an answer. My final words to them are the final words I’ll write here: In the end, you have to take care of the entire person, but that means simultaneously taking care of a lot of little parts. You’ve got a doctor for your teeth, one for your eyes, one for your general physical health. You see a specialist for your heart, or another specialist if you need an operation. It’s OK to see one therapist for addictions and another for dealing with bipolar. We have a lot to take care of as humans because after all, it’s all connected.

 

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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.

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