Recognizing the Warning Signs of Pornography Addiction in Yourself or Others

It’s been quite a while since I’ve talked about this, and I always worry that some of the more important, educational articles get buried by ones that might be more entertaining, so I think it’s probably once again time to talk about the signs of pornography addiction.

As always, I want to mention that I am not a doctor, and this should only be considered a guide. If you see these behaviors in yourself, I urge you to do more research and schedule an appointment with a professional addiction therapist to establish your current condition and plot a recovery path.

If you see these behaviors in loved ones, remind them that they can always talk to you, that you are not there to judge them, nor shame them, but you’re concerned they may have a problem and if they ask, you’re there to assist them getting help.

These symptoms were taken from Addiction.com:

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

Just because these are the early signs, it doesn’t mean that they ever go away. I was confronted by two women in I my life long before my addiction reached a critical point. One was a girlfriend when I was 20 who happen to see I had a pornographic video tape among my collection of non-porn tapes. She was very anti-porn, so I threw it away in front of her. She didn’t know about the box full of porn I had hidden elsewhere.

I gave that box of porn away before I met my wife. She discovered I looked at porn when I accidentally left it up on my computer. Because we didn’t have problems in the bedroom, she let it go, but I greatly underreported my use of porn to her and passed it off as a “boys will be boys” thing.

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 shame and isolation I felt was because I knew I had to keep my dependence on pornography a secret. Unlike my alcoholism, porn wasn’t something I engaged in around friends, so the feeling of isolation was certainly there. I never lost days to porn, but before I entered the critical phase, just as my life was starting to take a turn, my usage certainly increased. Instead of just looking at it late at night for 20-30 minutes, I was also starting to view it during the day, and I might look up at the clock and realize 2-3 hours had elapsed.

For as long as I can remember, I was never able to just sit and be with myself. Deep down I knew who I was – a scared little kid not built for the adult world who was faking his way through. As my world started to crash, I withdrew from so many people and activities, but porn was always there for me. Even if it was bad for me, which I knew on certain levels, it was always there and I could count on it.

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)

And this is where it all went bad. Thankfully, I believe I was only in this phase for 6-8 months before the police intervention served as a major wake-up call and was the impetus to turn my life around. I made that move to webcams because I needed to escalate the addiction to the point of interacting with somebody else. Could that have eventually led to meeting someone in real life? I’ll never know, and for that I’m glad.

My business was falling apart, my finances were crashing and in the end, the legal issues hit me like a ton of bricks. All because I didn’t get help in time. I wasn’t aware of porn addiction and it’s a big reason I talk about it now. The more people know, the more likely they are to get help. I implore you, if you think you may have a problem, or even if this blog entry just raises a few red flags, seek help. A place to start can be the RESOURCES page on this site.

How Many People Do I Know Who Have Overcome Porn Addiction Without Therapy? Zero.

Do you ever get so frustrated watching people figuratively bang their heads into a wall again and again that you’re not sure if you should bother pointing out that it doesn’t solve anything? I feel that way when I read message boards and forums from the “rebooting” and “NoFap” communities and their vast majority attitude toward therapy, or even refusing to call what they have an addiction. Maybe I’m the one banging his head.

(For those who sometimes ask, NoFap is short for No Fapping. “Fapping” has become a slang term for masturbation among the younger generation.)

As I’ve said before, if something works for you in recovery, stick with it. I appreciated the very early stages of 12-step groups, but beyond the foundation, my personality type let me know that I wasn’t going to thrive in that culture. Religion wasn’t the right route for me either and although I eat better and am more physically active than before, diet and exercise weren’t the secret. I like sitting around and eating Cheetos too much. But if any of this works for you, keep on going with it.

However, if none of it works for you, shouldn’t you try something else?

I don’t spend the time on Internet forums dedicated to overcoming pornography problems (too many won’t call them addictions) I once did, but I still feel reading their stories are interesting and informational. I’ve mostly stopped trying to tell them that based on everything they write, they meet the criteria for “addict” and that the addiction will only end when they get to the cause of it, which isn’t just a random joy for watching naked people go at it.

I see so many of these men writing about how weak they are, how they can’t stay away from porn or masturbation and how they feel completely lost…yet they aren’t addicts and are not going to seek help from a professional because it’s their problem to solve. Many of these men keep a “counter” as part of their signature that says how many days they’ve been sober. Most can’t get beyond 10 days without having to reset because their white-knuckle recovery method is failing them.

The pessimist in me says they don’t really want to stop, which is why they don’t seek real help. When I managed a call center, we sold a package of CDs and DVDs to parents who had defiant children. In a lot of cases, the parents didn’t want to spend the money, nor actually have to go through an 8-hour educational program to fix the problem. They just wanted to temper their guilt with the idea they looked into doing something.

If there’s one thing I learned from experience and from my time in rehab, group therapy and being around addicts, it’s that hiding an addiction is not difficult. Addicts are brilliant liars and manipulators. We even use the term “gaslight” to accuse others of what we’re doing to them.

Maybe these addicts see taking a short break and being “real” in an Internet forum as some brief form of relief. The only way that an addict can get better is to admit to themselves that they have a problem that rises to the definition of addiction and that they must traverse a series of options and obstacles to successfully battle that addiction.

Those options and obstacles are different for all of us and while I know someone will show up in the comments section saying they did it alone, with sheer willpower, I have never personally seen a true long-term addict recover without some form of therapy, usually intensive in the beginning of recovery.

Through therapy, we learn how we became addicted people. People sometimes doubt me when I say addiction started the first time I picked up a Penthouse magazine at 12 or the first time I got buzzed on champagne at 14. The reality is that the groundwork for addiction was laid even before then and I needed to learn about that time period.

Most addicts also have mental health issues and while medication does keep me at the same level of most of the humans, it was also important in therapy to learn how those mental health issues affected my decision-making and judgment throughout my life when I wasn’t medicated.

Once I understood these complex connections – which I never would have made without the ongoing help of professionals (I still see a therapist every 2-3 weeks) – recovering from the addictions became simpler. When you understand the problem, the symptoms are easier to address.

I’m a metaphor guy, so I look at it this way: If you’re hiking by yourself and you take a bad fall and break your leg, what are you going to do? Some people will stand up and try to walk out of there. They may take a few painful steps, but will likely fall down again. Then, they may try to fashion an amateur splint on their leg. They may get a few more steps on their next try, but they’re going to fall down again. Determined to get off the trail by themselves, they start crawling. Maybe they even get a little further than they did on their feet. People continue to walk by, many offering aid, but our hiker wants to save themselves on their own. What then?

Here are the options as I see them:

  • Continue to crawl, and die trying to get out of there
  • Open up your damn backpack, find your phone, call the rangers and get the help you need
  • Eventually, against the odds, miraculously crawl to the end of the trail, but have you really learned anything?

The “rebooting” and “NoFap” communities seem to believe that Nos. 1 and 3 are the answer. The “I got myself into this and I’ll get myself out of it” vibe is strong, be it out of shame, ego, stubbornness or some combination.

Recovery is the goal, not recovery the way one says it has to be. Believing things have to be a certain way is probably a big piece of what got them to this point in the first place.

Now excuse me while I go bang my head into the wall.

Q&A Time: Is it porn addiction if I’m not actually looking at pornography?

Question: I think I know the answer to this, but want to be sure. I spend a lot of time looking at non-pornographic video clips online that involve naked women, usually from movies, but they are not pornographic. If I’m not looking at pornography, can I really be a porn addict?

Answer: You seem to have decided you’re some kind of addict, and that’s more important than anything else. Whether what you watch rises to the level of pornography is less crucial than you getting help. If you’ve done your research and believe you are an addict, I would urge you to book an appointment with a therapist very soon, or visit my RESOURCES page for more information about getting help.

As far as the question about what rises to the level of pornography, I think it’s two-fold. First, we can agree that there is an industry that caters to the explicit visual sexual gratification of its customers. Whether it’s movies, magazines, strip clubs, etc., I think we can largely agree as society that this falls under the umbrella of pornography. Even this industry wears that label proudly.

The second kind of pornography, from a producer standpoint, I believe falls under the category of “unintentional pornography.” I’m guessing the kind of video clips you’re watching, if they’re from mainstream films, would fall in this column. Yes, I understand Hollywood can make things too sexy and there is almost never any nudity that is actually needed in a movie, but they are hardly making pornography. Unintentional pornography becomes pornography based on your manner of using it.

Another example would be women’s fashion/lifestyle magazines. They are created with the intent of selling advertising and sharing stories to a female audience. Can they be used for a cheap thrill by men? Absolutely. There are more sexual titillating photos in some of those magazines than things like Maxim, geared at men.

Yes, there are some materials out there that operate in a sort of gray space between intentional and unintentional pornography. You can’t tell me that Sports Illustrated is doing anything other than creating sexually visual material when their swimsuit issue comes out, especially when they just use body paint on some of the models. The same goes for some of the “independent” films made that show non-simulated intercourse or feature their actors naked through large sections of the movie. Let’s face it, sex sells. Always has, always will.

As I mentioned above, if you have to ask if you’re really a porn addict, that ship has probably sailed, even if you’re only watching National Geographic specials or looking at ESPN Magazine’s body issue.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to being labeled an addict, but you should start examining the behavior – and reasons behind the behavior – for why you need to ask in the first place.

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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.

Figuring Out if You’re A Casual or Problem User of Pornography

For this article, I’m going to suspend the discussion of whether pornography use in moderation is not unhealthy or if there is any moral component to the decision to utilize pornography. I’ll tackle those issues later on. For now, I simply want to provide a list of questions that people who are wondering if they have an issue with pornography can ask themselves to better understand their situation.

I think words like addiction, habit, obsession, compulsion and problem are more subjective than objective. Their definitions can be fluid and feature a lot of crossover from one term to the other. Ultimately, it’s up to you to honestly decide whether you have an issue or not with pornography and more importantly, what you’re going to do about it should you conclude there may be something there.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that much like there are people who can drink, play video games, gamble or eat in moderation – yet are not addicted, nor have a problem – that there are also people who can view and utilize pornography in moderation. At what point does “recreational” use start to bleed into being a problem? Asking yourself these questions may help point you in the right direction:

Is there any sort of trauma in your past? This doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual abuse, either. It can be physical or emotional. Roughly 90% of full-blown addicts of anything can trace their past to find some kind of meaningful trauma. With porn addicts, the number is 94%. That still leaves an opening to be an addict with no pre-existing trauma, but the two often go hand-in-hand. If your parent killed themselves in front of you, a sibling molested you, or any number of other major negative events in your life happened as a young person, addiction may be a symptom of how you deal with that trauma.

Is there any co-occurring disorder or previous addiction existing? While not at the numbers of trauma and addiction, more full-blown addicts have some kind of mental health issue than those who don’t.  These mental health problems may include bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety and a number of other diagnoses. Also, it is very easy for someone who is addicted to one substance or behavior to become addicted to another. Addictive behavior is not limited to one addiction at a time, although there are people who trade addictions, successfully battling one obsession only to take on another.

Are you addicted to pornography or masturbation? In my case, it didn’t take long to recognize once the porn was removed from my life, masturbation dropped to almost nothing. I masturbated more as an indicator to end a porn-viewing session than anything else. There are many people who have the opposite story. They were able to easily stop watching porn because it turned out pleasuring themselves was their actual vice. There’s a fairly easy way to determine which you’re addicted to, or if it’s both. For the next week or two, allow yourself to look at porn, but don’t utilize it to masturbate. Conversely, masturbate all you want, but do it without visual aids. You should be able to determine a trend among obsessive thoughts where your addictions truly lay.

Are there rituals around your use? Addicts generally use in the same way almost all the time. My alcohol use, which was certainly an addiction, came with rituals. I never drank cans of beer. It was either a bottle or in a pint glass when I was away from home. Corona, specifically, couldn’t touch my lips without a lemon or lime wedge. At home, I didn’t drink beer, just tequila and Red Bull. I’d only drink at night at home, and it always had to be in one of the three large plastic tumblers we had. I always poured the tequila and Red Bull the same way, almost parfait-style. First a dash of Red Bull, then tequila, then Red Bull, then tequila, and so on until the tumbler was full. That’s routine, or ritual and is common with addicts.

Do you lie to others, or yourself, about your usage? OK, it’s pornography, I get it. We all want to pretend that we’ve never looked at it, despite statistics saying those that don’t are in the massive minority. When the topic of pornography comes up in mixed company, do you stay quiet? Do you try to hide the role pornography plays in your life, especially the amount of time spent looking? Would you like about the time you spend if asked point-blank? When you’re finished looking at it, do you make deals with yourself that you won’t spend as much time engaged in the activity, yet you can’t keep the promises to yourself? Are you spending any money on pornography outside of typical Internet fees? Do you find yourself sometimes picking isolating to look at porn over other activities? Do you rationalize that the time you spend or material you look at is not as extreme as others with addiction, so if they have a problem, you have less than a problem? The answers are all small red flags that add up.

I am by no means a doctor, but do know how I answered these questions when I was in the throes of my addiction. I’ve also done more research and met more pornography addicts than most professionals, not to mention I’ve been through plenty of group and one-on-one therapy for my formerly rampant addictions. I understand if you don’t like your answers and want to discredit my opinion…but that may also be a sign you want to avoid the truth about your addiction.

As I mentioned earlier, anybody can diagnose you as an addict, but what matters is that you believe you have a problem. More importantly is deciding what you’re going to do about it. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do next when you’ve reached the conclusion you need to do something about your problem.

 

It’s a Good Time to Talk to Your Children About Pornography; A Lull for Porn Addiction Information?

I guess being away a couple of months really did recharge my battery as I have 101 pornography addiction-related things I want to talk about. Seems like a good time for one of my multiple-subject articles.

Keeping Kids in the Loop

First, it’s back-to-school time. There is no better time to talk to your children about pornography since their peers are the most likely people to introduce/distribute pornography to them.

Keep the discussion age appropriate. I don’t think any kid under 10 needs to be told more than, “If you see naked pictures of men or women, let mommy or dad know about it, OK? Just like we’d want you to tell us if you found a cigarette.”

I think you can step it up for ages 10-to-13 and let them know that pornography addiction is a real thing, just like drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. Recognize that a lot of the power is in their hands as you can’t police them 24/7. Let them know you’re there to talk and that you believe they’ll make the correct decisions.

With the 13-to-18 crowd, which I think is the most critical, I believe your message has to be two-fold. First, with the boys, it’s time to introduce them to the concept of porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED). Explain that there are many guys their age – and now in their 20s – who grew up looking at so much Internet porn, it has negatively affected their ability to have a normal physical relationship with a partner. Second, for both genders, it’s good to remind them that the moment they take a nude picture of themselves or someone else, even if they think it’s safe, there is no such thing as safe when it comes to cell phones, the Internet or trusting your “friends.” If they wouldn’t pull their pants down in school, they shouldn’t be doing it in front of a mirror because it could end up being seen by everyone in school, and countless others. It’s also good to remind them that looking at such pictures, along with making them, is against the law and people do get in trouble. Sadly, the biggest producers of child pornography are actually the children. They need to know it can come with dire consequences.

Where’s the New Information?

I don’t know if it’s just a natural lull, but since returning from my hiatus, I’ve been searching for articles, studies and blogs about pornography addiction and it appears there are fewer new ones than ever. I hope this isn’t an indication that porn addiction is becoming either normalized or talking about it has just been a passing fad.

My life, and the lives of so many people I have met in the last 5-6 years, have been radically altered by pornography addiction. Some, like mine, have endings where the user became a happier, healthier person with a family that stuck by them. Most however – especially those who are unable to conquer their addiction – are tales of woe, where the addict lost everything and was largely shunned. Both groups have to rebuild their lives into something new, but it can go in very different ways.

I think both stories need to be told. I know mine is more of a success story that the addict early in recovery can strive for, but I also think we need to hear those stories of broken lives to serve as a warning to people who are debating getting help.

With my PornAddictCounseling.org site, I deal with many people who after talking to me for a few weeks or months will throw up their hands and say they are the unique specimen for whom recovery is impossible. This is when I’ll have them read both the success and not-so-successful passages I’ve seen out there.

I think both stories can be very meaningful, but I’m not seeing much out there that’s new. Searches through Google and WordPress are just turning up what I’m already familiar with.

If you’ve had an experience with porn addiction, please consider sharing your story. This can’t be something we don’t talk about. There are too many people suffering out there who need to get help and feel that they are alone. Too many of them mistakenly think they’ll be ok in the long run because their addiction isn’t to drugs or alcohol.

Communication and education are key. Considering being one of the voices.

A Final Request

Finally, if you see some kind of article, blog or study out there that is relatively new, I hope you’ll let me know about it. As I’ve mentioned, my next book is coming out later this year (or early next year) and I’m starting to stir ideas around in my head for the third one.

The concept of the new book – a professional and a former addict answering questions for partners of addicts – came directly from reading blogs on WordPress. I’m always looking for inspiration and education, so let me know if there’s something out there I’m missing.

And of course, if you’ve got an idea for a book that you’re not planning to write, I’d love to hear it. Ideas can come from anywhere and only a fool thinks theirs are the best.

The Legal Ordeal Sparked by My Pornography Addiction is Finally Over

I know that I said I wasn’t going to write this summer, but allow me this one indulgence as I celebrate coming off of probation after three years. It is the end of the road for the legal part of my porn addiction fallout.

On March 20, 2014, as I was sitting in my parents’ house just hours after being arrested on a charge of possession of child pornography and subsequently bailed out by my wife, I uttered a sentence that has stuck with me straight through then to the day I write this, July 27, 2019: “The only thing we know for sure is one day this will all be over.”

Today, at least as far as the law is concerned, I will complete paying my debt to society. This is my last day of probation and closes the book on this chapter of my life.

I won’t go into the last five-and-a-half-years of my legal saga or even talk too much about the addiction or recovery here. Lord knows there’s enough of that all over this site, which will have its second anniversary at some point next month.

I guess what I want to let people know is that whatever hardship you’re going through in life, whether you created it or not, if it affected your entire circle or just you personally, if it caused the destruction of relationships or public humiliation, believe it or not, it will one day be over and there’s a likelihood – however hard to believe today – that you’ll be a better person for it.

Obviously, in the year or so leading up to my arrest I was not a healthy person, but I can look back over my entire life and see a mentally ill person, driven by ego and fear, who was a shell of the person I am today. Perhaps I don’t have 1/10th the friends and acquaintances I once did and I’m not a participating member of my community (both things that I do miss), but the trade-off is a healthy body and soul, and deeper relationships than I could have imagined with the family members and friends who did stick around.

The life I led back then seems like 40 years ago. Once in a while, I’ll stumble upon a box in my garage that contains trophies and plaques recognizing the work I did professionally, politically or otherwise. I’ll stumble on the box that has a stack of magazines I was the editor/publisher of or a box full of briefing papers from when I was a city councilor. It’s like these things are written in a foreign language. The person who cared more about this stuff than his family has long since left this Earth.

What probation did for me

Three years ago tomorrow, to the day – ironically on my wife’s birthday – I walked out of jail after 27 weeks, into fresh air for the first time during that stint (which was disappointingly underwhelming), understanding that while the worst of it was over, I still had three years of probation to follow.

After about six months, the minimum time allowed, my probation officer was transferred from a sex offender specialist to a regular PO because they’d long earlier established I was almost no threat for recidivism. They recognized I got sick and had been doing everything to get better and maintain my health. I was treated with great respect and understanding by both POs. I think they knew that there were other people they needed to keep much closer tabs on.

I credit probation with being the section of my ordeal that allowed me to put the period at the end of my addiction. Six years ago, I couldn’t have told you what it was going to take to stop me from using alcohol or porn. Certainly not a dorky intervention. Today, I now know it’s the law. The specter of returning to jail for a slip-up helped put my recovery in a place where I’m almost positive it’s permanent.

It became clear to me a long time ago they were not going to check my computer or test my urine, which they had the right to, but by that time, I had tasted this better life and wanted more.

Looking ahead

Tonight at midnight, I can go buy all the tequila and dirty magazines I want. But I’m not going to do that because it’s the roadway to a life that I never want to visit again. I probably wouldn’t have purchased either three years ago, but probation gave me the time – and the potential scary consequences – to really build my “new normal.”

The reality is, tomorrow – my first day of legal freedom in 5½ years probably won’t be all that different than today or yesterday.

When I said, “The only thing we know for sure is one day this will be over,” in my parents’ living room in March 2014 I was specifically talking about the legal ordeal.

I didn’t realize that was actually the day my previous life was thankfully over. The last three years have been practice for this new, better life…and the one thing I hope for sure is that there will never be a day that this life is over. I mean, I know I’ll die someday, but until then, this is the ride I want to be on.

Q&A Time: I failed to get better. How do I live with porn addiction?

 

QUESTION: I’ve read your site for a while, I’ve tried to follow your advice. I saw a therapist until I couldn’t afford it anymore, but porn is just part of my life and I don’t think I’m ever going to get better. What’s the best way to just live with the addiction?

ANSWER: If that’s your reality, I’d say don’t do anything illegal, but it’s impossible for me to accept giving up and succumbing to your addiction.

Here’s a truth that is sometimes hard for people like me who are trying to help others to face: There is nothing that rehab, a therapist, your partner, or I can do to change your addiction. We can offer help, encouragement, tips, support, punishment, boundaries, motivation, etc., but we can’t get you to stop. That’s on your shoulders.

You can do it. I’m proof of it and I’ve seen it happen with others. Some still struggle staying sober after 10 years, some lick this in a couple of months and never go back, but in every single case, they decided the most important thing in their life was doing what they needed to do to kick their habit. I believe you simply haven’t reached the point that defeating this addiction is your No. 1 priority.

I only reached that point after intervention from the law. It’s not how I would have wanted it to be, but more than five years later, I’m grateful it happened.

Back then, I was a magazine publisher and city councilor who worked 90 hours every week and ignored my family. I snuck a couple hours of porn watching and chat room trolling in the middle of the night. I was sick and didn’t see how to get out of it.

I now work about 30 hours per week and spend all my time with my family. I would have said my current lifestyle was impossible, but when forced into certain situations, you figure things out. Nothing is impossible, but excuses make it seem that way.

If you can quit, and do it on your terms, it will make your future much easier and you’ll have more control. I fear based on the brevity and tone of your question that you are in a critical phase of addiction and whether it be in 2 months or 2 years, it’s going to lead somewhere you don’t want it to go. Make it a priority — THE priority — to take care of it before that happens. I wish I would have.

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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.