Spoiler Alert: Relapse is NOT a Part of Recovery

I hope this doesn’t upset too many people, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Relapse is not a part of recovery. You’ll get professionals and others who care telling you it is, but that’s only so you don’t give up and get back up on that horse and keep going. Relapse is actually the opposite of recovery. Relapse is a break from recovery.

Once the relapse has started, I think people will tell you anything to get it to stop. I understand that. If the behavior doesn’t stop, it’s no longer a relapse. It’s called “using again” and I think we rationalize the relapse to the addict as a minor slip to get them back on the right path. At that point, I get it. But is there more we can do to not reach that point?

I wonder how many relapses would actually be preventable if “Progress Not Perfection” and “Relapse is a Part of Recovery” were not mantras I heard throughout rehabs, group therapies and 12-step groups.

While it’s technically illegal if you’re using a scheduled drug like heroin, relapse isn’t the kind of thing that you’ll be thrown in jail for in 99.9% of the cases. Yes, you may do something stupid while you’re in the midst of your addiction if it alters your behavior to the point you are violent, miss work or make other bad choices, but let’s be honest…except for the guilt of failing and resetting the clock, most people get through a relapse unscathed.

I was reading a well-written entry on a recovery forum I frequent earlier and a guy was talking about his relapse. He had certain phrases that struck me as:

  • Part of every addict’s journey to a new life is trial and error, aka relapse.
  • If you do find yourself using again; don’t give up, rather give yourself a pat on the back, you are just like everybody else that has successfully beat their addiction.
  • Realize that in order to relapse you must have been trying to stop, and that honestly is the biggest step in this battle.
  • Learn from each relapse…as long as you take something away from it then you are moving forward towards recovery.

This all just sounds like rationalization to me, and if you’ve ever met an addict, you’ve met someone who is not only a master manipulator and liar to those close to them, they’re able to convince themselves of anything.

Recovery is about not indulging in your addiction. It is not about indulging in your addiction only a few more times. Rationalizing that it’s OK because everybody does it and as long as you learn something from it was OK is dangerous.

One of my favorite concepts taught at my second rehab was the idea of the “prelapse.” It asserts that long before you actually indulge in your addiction, you’ve set the wheels in motion. As most addicts can tell you, there is a way of thinking and there is a way of behaving leading up to the relapse. It can be minutes, hours or days. In most cases, it’s all three.

I’m not talking about massive red flag triggers. Those should be easy enough to spot. I’m talking about things like having a bad day, seeing something that causes a certain change in thinking or slacking off from your usual recovery diligence. It’s just as important that recovering addicts understand the little, subtle things that lead them toward relapse than the massive things. We see the massive things coming a mile away.

There are rituals involved with addiction, prior to the substance or behavior actually happening that many addicts never recognize. I had to pour the Red Bull and Tequila a certain way. The conditions for looking at online porn had to be exactly as I wanted. I hadn’t started drinking or looking yet, but had I relapsed when I began preparing? In many ways, yes. I never recognized any of these routines until I entered treatment. Identifying them is a great way to stop dead in your tracks.

Knowing what’s going to happen before the relapse is the best tool for stopping it before it happens. You don’t just blink your eyes and suddenly you’re on a porn website, or sitting in your favorite chair with a tumbler of vodka, or standing at the roulette table or looking at an empty pint of ice cream you’ve devoured. There was a series of thoughts and actions that led you there.

Relapse sucks, but it doesn’t happen to everybody (it actually doesn’t happen with about 40% of people) and it doesn’t have to happen multiple times. Giving ourselves permission to slip up is the surest way of reintroducing addiction back to our lives. Stay vigilant.

 

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.