Spotting the Signs of Pornography Addiction

The main reason I’m publishing a book in early 2018 telling the story of my demise in late 2013/early 2014 is because I want people who suspect they may have a problem with pornography addiction – or believe someone close to them does – to seek help long before I did. Truth be told, I knew sex addiction was a real thing. I didn’t know porn addiction could be.

And while I’m sure you’ll all be buying multiple copies to share with friends, for those who don’t but are still wondering about the signs, the good people at 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.

Two years before my arrest, I thought I was just a guy who probably watched a little more porn than the average person. I wish I had seen all of the red flags that were soon to arrive.

I’ve said it many time and I’ll say it even more moving forward: I blame nobody but me for my heinous acts. Despite any mitigating factors, it’s on me for dropping the ball when it comes to my mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Had I recognized these warning signs, I wonder if things would have been any different. I hope they turn out different for you and your loved ones.

 

 

Ideas That Have Helped in My Recovery

When I started this blog, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t try to get too far into the science of addiction, nor present the idea that I had the “answer” for anything. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a story to tell that shows one can work hard and conquer their porn demons. I love reading other people’s blogs, especially those people who follow my ramblings. Many of these brave people are in the early stages of recovery, and not just from pornography.

Those first days and weeks are the most difficult. It’s why most people don’t get through them. Unfortunately, too many people view handling an addiction like going on a diet. It’s not like that at all…even if you have a food/eating addiction.

 

Avoid Addiction If It’s Not Too Late

Learning about the brain science is interesting, and will help you understand why addiction is a disease. I disagreed with that assessment for a long time, but once the science was explained to me, it was rather obvious I was using conservative 1950s macho thinking in defining addiction. I don’t delve too much into it on this site because I’ve already done the damage, as have most addicts.

If you’re not addicted to any harmful substance/behavior, I’d urge you to read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It doesn’t go into much on addiction, but explains how and why we develop habits that can lead there. For most of us, our addictions are coping mechanisms to deal with problems we may not be able to easily define. If you can deal with those problems before relief through bad habits is established, you may have the upper hand in the battle with addiction. I was too late to the text, and wonder if it really would have helped anyway. An inclination toward addiction + raging narcissism = nothing was going to stop me.

 

Things I’ve Learned, Advice I Can Offer

Before I digress too far, let me bring it back to the addicts. I can’t tell you what the magic combination of ingredients in your recovery cure are going to be. It’s something that you have to experiment with. Relapse is common and it’s OK…it just means you need to tweak the recipe. Here are some of the things that really helped me maintain what is about now a few months shy of 4 years sobriety.

  • Figure out if you have an addiction to pornography, masturbation, or both. In my case, as most, they went hand-in-hand (total pun intended). A person told me early on that they decided it was OK to masturbate as long as they didn’t look at porn, and it was OK to look at porn as long as they didn’t masturbate. When they couldn’t marry the visual and physical pleasure, it wasn’t the same. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without one of the ingredients. It’s OK, but you don’t generally partake. I think this technique doesn’t actually solve anything, but is a good jumping-off point for people looking to wean themselves from porn and/or masturbation.
  • Understand that a porn addiction is not like a drug or alcohol addiction in some ways, so it demands a different outcome. It’s more like an eating disorder. The goal is not complete abstinence from sexual behavior. It’s about developing a healthy sexuality. I wrote a blog about this concept HERE.
  • Look at cross-addictions and mental health issues. Most addicts have some mental health concerns. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 20, bipolar disorder at 25 and PTSD at 39. I also was a workaholic and an alcoholic. While porn addiction was the lynchpin of my undoing, it was just one of the items on the buffet for me to deal with. Had I only dealt with my porn addiction in recovery, I never would have been successful. I’ve not had a drink since April 1, 2014 and rarely work more than a 30-hour week these days. I’m also diligent with my psych med schedule.
  • Find a group of people to remind you that you’re not alone and you can lean on. There may be multiple groups that fill multiple roles. My family understand me in ways nobody else does. My longtime friends understand me in another way. The friends/providers I’ve met in recovery yet another way. You can’t handle life on your own – your addictions have proven that truth.
  • Removing myself from my situation was the only way to address both my alcohol and porn issues. I was fired from my job following my arrest, so the workaholism took care of itself, but I can honestly say had I not been able to leave Maine and spend 10 weeks in California at Spencer Recovery Centers for alcoholism or 7 weeks in Texas at Sante Center for Healing for my porn addiction, I couldn’t have done it. I needed intense one-on-one and group therapy away from the surroundings that were the petri dish for my sickness. You can read about that HERE.
  • Consequences help. It did not take me long to recognize without the police intervention, I was heading on a road to death. Since that day, I have either been out on bail, incarcerated, or out on probation. With each came a list of consequences should I break the rules. Would it be easy to break the rules? In most cases, yes. But having lost so much and had my life turned upside down, I know what can ACTUALLY happen when an addiction gets out of control. The further penalties I could pay for straying are a huge motivator for staying on the right track.
  • Appreciate this is going to be a life-long battle and try to stay positive. Porn is not the enemy, masturbation is not the enemy, your brain chemistry is not the enemy. There are no enemies in this struggle. It’s going to be hard enough to navigate recovery, you don’t need to hate anything. There’s stuff going on that you need to figure out and it will take a long time…until the day you die. Until recently, I had a 2-hour weekly support group meeting and a 1-hour one-on-one counseling session. My support group was moved to monthly and I’m talking to my counselor about increasing our one-on-ones to two hours. We probably spend 10-15% of our time at this point talking about the specific addictions, but the other 85-90% can be tied to it because I am an addict. Like anybody with a chronic medical condition, I have to stay on top of it or it will become worse.

 

You’re Almost Done Reading, I Promise

I could probably list off another 20 things that help me. Hell, I could probably list another 200. But I could also list 200 things I thought would help me, but didn’t. I know for someone just starting out in recovery hearing those numbers is daunting, but it’s just a little bit every day. You’re either regressing and living in addiction or your progressing and living in recovery.

If there is anything I can say or do to help anybody out there, please don’t hesitate to send me a note. I can’t tell you how to beat this, but I can tell you that there is a path, you just have to find yours.

An Addict’s Mind & Nostalgia

I’m torn about nostalgia. I think every addict has to be.

This morning, I happened upon the movie Trainspotting 2, the sequel to the 1996 film based on Irvine Welsh’s novel. T2 came out earlier this year, so there was roughly 20 years between the movies.

I loved the first film. It was one of those movies that helped me define who I was. It came out when I was 20 and ready to take on the world.

My mindset in 1996 wasn’t that I HOPED to make something WORTHWHILE out of myself. It was that I HAD to make something AMAZING out of myself. I wasn’t going to go the route of my friends who either went to college, joined the military or went straight into the workforce. By 20, I had already quit college twice and had a job in journalism most needed a graduate degree to get. The plan seemed to be working.

I saw it in the theater a few times. I remember seeing it in Boston in early autumn 1996 with a group of my brother’s friends. Despite almost all being freshman scattered throughout the northeast, they were still processing the death of a close friend and this mini-reunion a couple of months into the start of their college experience was part of it.

We all went on a Saturday afternoon. I thought they were would love the independent spirit and brash filmmaking style. While the movie centers around the heroin addiction of its four main characters, Trainspotting was really about slapping the world in the face and doing things by your own rules.

When we left the theater, most of our group in shock. The movie was an assault on their senses and they didn’t see beyond the surface message of heroin will not lead to anything positive. I was shocked by their response, but over the next year or two, I came to understand the identical script we all followed for the first 18 years of our lives was about diverge into a million different stories. Until Facebook came along a decade later, it was the last contact I had with most of these people.

I knew a sequel to Trainspotting had been made, but it did so poorly at the US box office that it never made it to Maine and I just have never got into watching movies on Netflix. The only time I ever watch a movie now is in the morning after I bring my son to school and before I start working. This morning, I was flipping around and Starz was just about to begin the film.

I briefly thought about not watching it. Since I’ve been in recovery and simply matured, I find many of the movies of the early-to-mid 1990s that influenced me no longer hold me captive the way they once did. The films I loved Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, The Usual Suspects and yes, Trainspotting almost always mixed crime with addictive behavior. I think part of the adrenaline that turned me onto those movies back then was the adrenaline that helped stoke my addictions.

Even tamer films like Dazed and Confused feel somehow wrong to watch. The person I once was, who is still a ghost inside of me, remembers making them into more than movies. They all played into my belief I could conquer the world with my own rules. Consequences and repercussions be damned, I was special.

Well, fast-forward 20 years and as it turned out I learned you can’t ignore consequences and repercussions and the only thing trying to make myself appear special did was cause a lot more attention when my inevitable fall happened. Those kids who left the theater with me two decades earlier hadn’t lived nearly as fast or crashed anywhere near as hard. I thought that made them lame back then. Now it’s clear they were just far healthier.

I don’t often read reviews of movies and when I do, it’s only after I see them. I don’t want to be prejudiced going into it, but like reading other people’s takes. After watching T2, and living the life I have, it was fascinating to read the reviews because so few people truly understood what happens to addicts – regardless of their substance or behavior – over 20 years, but the movie nails it.

I won’t provide spoilers, other to say I don’t think it found a big audience because I think you had to be a wild child of 18-25 when the movie came out, lived a life of poor choices and regret, and are now somewhere in your 40s, struggling to just make a go of it. Critics complained the youthful exuberance of the first film was replaced by a melancholy resignation.

The movie uses a few clips from the first film, but largely as points by which to jump into the theme that even nostalgia can’t fix the past. The reckless mission-filled energy is recalled for what it actually was: An aimless escape of real life. Had the characters just learned to cope with real life on its terms back then, they wouldn’t be struggling so hard to do it two decades later.

I loved Trainspotting in 1996, but I can barely watch it because I remember who I was when I fell in love with it. Today, I don’t know if I fell in love with T2, but I appreciate the fact a film was made that didn’t keep its characters in their 20-something mindsets, as many critics would have preferred, but allowed them to age and come to the conclusions we all must arrive at.

We talk about our lives in the past tense and we usually recycle it for more than it was worth at the time. That’s nostalgia. When we recycle it for the lessons it can teach, it’s far more valuable. Sometimes it’s just hard to know the difference.

 

 

Preparing Those Close to Me For the Release of My Book

The final edit of my book is taking longer than I thought it would, but that’s OK. I’d rather the publisher take his time and go through it with a fine-toothed comb than put something into the world that is full of mistakes or sentences that make sense to me, but is incoherent to others.

One of the things that this extra time has allowed me is the chance sit down with a couple of people close to me who I haven’t really spoken with in the last few years and give them a chance to ask any questions they may have and fill in the holes between what they heard vs. what they think they know vs. what they actually know.

I don’t want them reading something troubling in the book they had no idea about. It’ll probably be rough enough without surprises.

They didn’t know much about my addictions, both alcohol and porn, because neither involved those who were close to me. The porn was all online and when it involved people, was total strangers. The only time anybody saw me drink alcohol publicly was at professional social functions and while I often had more than I should, nobody saw a falling-down drunk.

With close family and friends, they were mostly kept in the dark. At the extended family Christmas party, there is routinely a bottle or two of wine and a case of beer available. In the 20 years it’s been legal for me to drink, I believe I had a bottle of beer once, about 15 years ago.

I knew that at the core, my drinking was shameful and I didn’t want to put it on display. I couldn’t only have one or two and be satisfied, so why would I start, especially in front of the very people who I wanted to hide my dysfunctional relationship with alcohol from the most. Instead of getting the machine in my head going, it was better to wait to get home and get hammered on the hard stuff, alone.

It was the same way with the porn. I think it is for everybody, but even social events like going to a strip club were things I did solo. If buddies ever brought up porn or anything like that, I took steps to not be part of the conversation. I didn’t want to suddenly blurt, “But I prefer Jess Franco’s style of directing Italian porn films from the late 1970s” and be outed at someone who clearly had a problem.

I was never a Casanova or a guy who hit on the girls, going back to being a child. If a girl showed any interest in me, I tried to steer her toward a relationship, not a one-night-stand. I don’t think there was anything in my demeanor that would suggest to anybody close to me that I had an unhealthy fixation on porn.

Maybe those close to me simply don’t want to accept that I have these addictions and prefer to see the destruction of my life as the result of an isolated incident. I’ve written, re- written, edited, re- written, re-edited and re- written my book so many times, it almost feels like I’m deal with a character and not me at this point. Maybe that’s how they prefer to view it.

Nobody asks graphic or detail-oriented questions. Most don’t know where to start with their questions. I let them know that I was very ill and tell them what I did. I talk about starting the book during the six months I was in jail and how the recovery process has changed me.

I know that they see somebody different, but I think they’re still having trouble assimilating that – despite their belief at the time — they never really knew the person I was.

In-Patient Rehab was Critical to My Recovery

I’ve heard a lot of people say if you’re not committed to recovery or don’t believe you have a problem in the first place, don’t waste your money on inpatient rehab. I couldn’t disagree more.

When I entered my first facility, Spencer Recovery Center in Laguna Beach, California, I didn’t believe I had a drinking problem at all. A year later, when I arrived at Santé Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, I didn’t understand just how deep my pornography addiction ran. I am proof that you can enter treatment with a negative or misguided mindset and leave with a very different perspective.

If you’re 100% hell-bent on not learning a thing and you can’t wait to keep doing whatever it is that got you there, odds are you’ll be out the door in the first week anyway. I don’t know what nationwide statistics are on people leaving rehab – either on their own or at the request of the facility – but those who have addictions they aren’t going to address don’t last very long.

The process of rehab is simple and worked on me. They tear you down and then they build you up. That’s greatly oversimplifying it, but they provide an outlet by which you can examine your behavior, habits and addictions with little interference from the outside world. The only people you have quality interaction with are medical, psychiatric and counseling professionals, and your fellow patients.

Simply taking a break from the outside world is good for anybody who is having issues with addiction. It’s certainly no vacation, but unplugging from real day-to-day life is crucial. I don’t know how people make intensive outpatient programs work for them. I needed to be away.

Thankfully, my alcohol detox was mild and I didn’t need one from pornography, but I’ve witnessed some people in real pain. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but once they reach the other side, many have told me they feel better than they have in a long time. We can debate the merits of filling these people with new medication, but having a place for the body to rid itself of poison is huge.

Once cleaned out, the real work begins in accepting the addiction. If you’re like me and didn’t think you had an addiction, they’ll work with you to get there with baby steps. First, I was somebody who didn’t always use alcohol wisely. I could accept that. The leap to “problem drinker” wasn’t that far and when I started getting honest with myself I accepted the idea of “functional alcoholic.” Once you recognize there is no “functioning” addict, it’s not hard to arrive at the fact I had an addiction. This process took me about 8-10 days.

I’m not going to go deep into 12-Step mantras here. You can read my blogs here and here about my experiences with them. Simply being around other addicts, both within the walls of the rehab and in the rooms of AA and SAA proved to me I was not alone. Knowing that allowed me to open up and examine how I got to where I did. For me, it was not a fun process, but it was one that was necessary for recovery.

After being stripped emotionally naked, you’re provided with tools and techniques for hopefully overcoming your specific addiction. Some are the same for all addicts while others are tailored to your exact case.  Eventually, you reach a point where you’ve been there a while and feel invigorated. Those who are near the end of their stays at rehab look like some of the healthiest people on earth from my experience. Or, the juxtaposition of how they looked when they arrived is so great, they can’t help but look like new people.

More than the work done in groups or with the professionals, I think the vast majority of my healing came from spending time with fellow patients. In my case, attending programs that also had people with drug problems, eating disorders and other addictions was crucially helpful.

I’ve only been to two rehabs, so I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on the programs and amenities at any other than I’ve attended. I’m sure the staff, facilities, food, etc. vary in quantity and quality all over, along with price. One thing I have noticed with the two places I’ve attended and many others I’ve researched is that when they get individual star reviews on places like Facebook or Google, it’s either 1-star or 5-stars. This means it works, or the person didn’t try. A place with an overall review of 2.5 stars is perfect in my opinion.

My therapist said just before I entered my first rehab, “Don’t just play along. Keep your mind open.” I’m glad I did. I’m one of the few who has not relapsed, but even among those who did, I have to believe that they did get something out of their experience. No, it’s not a cure-all – you still have to leave and face the real world, but I would urge anybody with addiction who has the means to absolutely spend time in an inpatient rehabilitation treatment facility.