Brody Stevens Made Me Feel Better About Myself When I Needed It

Lost in the news of the oversexed (R. Kelly, Robert Kraft) on Friday, there was a small celebrity news item that if you blinked you missed it. A minorly famous comic, Brody Stevens, took his own life in Los Angeles at the age of 48.

In early June 2014, I was only two days out of a 70-day stay at a Palm Springs rehab center for my alcoholism when my brother, who lived in L.A., suggested we go to The Comedy Store to see that night’s showcase.

One-by-one, the comics (including Marc Maron and SNL’s Leslie Jones) did their sets. Brody Stevens came on as the last comic of the night. I knew him from The Hangover and little things he’d done on Comedy Central, but mostly from having read about him recently having had a meltdown on a Twitter, scaring those in the comedy world for threatening suicide via social media.

I knew the tradition at The Comedy Store was that the last comic was allowed to go as long as they wanted. By the time he took the stage, probably only 40 people were left in the crowd. By the time he left the stage over an hour later, shortly after midnight, about 10 of us were left.

He did the most non-traditional set I’d ever seen in that he didn’t tell a single joke. I don’t think I laughed in that 70 or 80 minutes once.

Instead of telling jokes, he acted as a sort of group therapy facilitator for those of us who were left in the crowd, asking questions about people’s lives and providing feedback.

I was one of the people who he talked with first, when I hesitantly raised my hand after he asked who was on medication for their mental health. In most scenarios, opening yourself up like that to a comic on stage is license for ridicule.

Instead, he shared what medication he was on at that point and how it was affecting him. After learning I was from Maine, he asked what I was doing in L.A.

Now, keep in mind, I’d just done 70 difficult days at rehab, having left home after getting arrested in a major scandal. To say I was fragile and still processing things was an understatement. I didn’t know if I wanted to open myself up, but I figured they preached living an honest life in rehab, so I should do it in front of this small group at a famous L.A. comedy club.

“I just finished two months at a rehab in Palm Springs,” I said.

“Congratulations! That’s awesome, my friend! My mom lives in Palm Springs!” he said, excitedly. “I’m going to visit her on Thursday and get a massage at Massage Envy while I’m there. You see, we have more connections! That’s what this is all is about. It’s about connections.”

After another minute he moved onto others, playing a game of invisible catch with one young audience member and counseling a fellow comic who was having a rough, drunken night to name but two of his other interactions.

When the show was over, my brother and I agreed it was the most unorthodox, yet extraordinary set we’ve ever seen. It has stuck with me like few other performances I’ve ever seen, even to this day.

Brody Stevens was right about life being all about making connections. He was able to make a connection with every person who stayed in the room that night. It didn’t matter there was only 10 of us around at the end. It was something special to behold.

While I now am pretty much an open book to people who ask about my story, I wasn’t back then. I didn’t know how to deal with my issues in a public forum or what I should tell people. Brody Stevens was the first person who made me realize I didn’t need to be afraid to share my story.

It really made me sad to see that, according to reports, he’d told comics he’d pulled himself off of his meds not too long ago because it dulled his creativity. It clearly also reawakened the mental health demons he wrestled with. He hung himself on Friday, unable to cope any longer.

I was struck by how many very famous comedians told stories about Stevens in the day or two after his death on social media. Despite not making it to those levels of fame, he clearly entertained and touched those who did get lucky in a way few of their fellow comics can.

I’ll never get to see Brody Stevens perform a second time. I’m just grateful I got the first.

 

Yes, Recovery Does Get Easier

While porn addiction isn’t exactly a happy topic, I feel like I sometimes tend to be about doom-and-gloom, often specifically looking for negative statistics to show what a problem the addiction is, and will become in our society.

I rarely talk about what it’s like for me today, nearly five years into recovery. For those wondering the big question “Does it ever get easier?” I’m here to tell you that yes, it does, but you have to find the way to make it easier.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about cognitive behavioral therapy. If you have a behavior, even one that reaches an addictive level, I urge you to seek out a therapist who specializes in CBT.

When I was at both of my rehabs, there were the naysayers and people who didn’t want to be there. I remember one time, there was an especially mouth drug addict. He was young and it was clear his parents forced him to be there or he’d get cut off. There are always a few those at every rehab.

“You’re just here to brainwash us!” he once blurted out to a clinician who was running one of our group activities.

He stopped, walked over to the guy, looked him straight in the eye and said one of the most truthful things I’ve ever heard.

“If you’re not here to get your brain washed, you’re in the wrong place. Don’t you think you all need a little bit of brainwashing?” he asked the addict.

A few days later, the anti-brainwasher was kicked out for hooking up with one of the young women he shared his drug of choice with at the facility. It’s funny how it’s never the sex or porn addicts that hook up at these places.

In a nutshell, CBT is self-brainwashing.

The other idea this clinician introduced me to was the concept of the “pre-lapse.” His contention was that once you’re at the stage of relapse, you’re going to engage in your addiction, but if you can nip it in the bud in advance, you’ll never reach relapse stage. There are a series of almost ritualistic thoughts and behaviors most addicts, regardless of the specific addiction, go through prior to using. Once that chain of events begins, it’s hard to derail it.

I learned how to derail the pre-lapse with cognitive behavioral therapy. I used it to tackle both my alcohol and porn problems and although muscle memory has made coping with the addictions easier, I still have CBT in back pocket.

As long as I live and I see an ad for beer on television, I’m going to have the Pavlovian response of thinking it looks tasty. That’s because the first beer or two is tasty. It’s when I feel this way that I pause and remind myself that I’ve never stopped at one or two and can’t stop at one or two, so I can’t have any. That works now. When the pull was harder years ago, I’d start thinking about all of the horrible things I’d done or said when I was drunk and how I never wanted to go down that route again. Eventually, maybe the commercials won’t trigger any response.

With porn, if I see a beautiful woman on TV or in the movies, I’ll sometimes have the immediate thought, “I wonder if she’s done a nude scene.” In years past, that would lead me to one of those celebrity porn websites. Today though, I’m able to pause and ask myself, “What does it matter if she’s done a nude scene? What will I see that I’ve never seen before?” I find that when I boil porn down to its essence, naked people being objectified, I want nothing to do with it.

And whether it’s alcohol or porn, I’m able to look back at the last six years: First, my worst year of addiction, then getting in legal trouble, attending two rehabs and hundreds of hours of therapy, a six-month jail sentence, hurting so many people close to me, almost bankrupting myself all leading to what is today a very isolated, often lonely life. My choices with alcohol and porn led me here and having spent time with addicts, I know I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Reflecting back on these last six years is a quick trick to put any porn or alcohol triggers to rest.

Yes, it’s easier now going into Year 5 of recovery than it was Year 3 and certainly Year 1. For those of you who are in the early stages, don’t fret. Just stick with it. You have control over your actions, even if you need someone to teach you how. Seek out a CBT therapist and make the recovery journey a successful one.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – January Edition

I haven’t written a trivial thoughts entry yet for January and since we’re both at the end and I have no thoughts worthy of a long-form entry, it’s the perfect intersection of deadline and laziness.

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I had a fascinating conversation with a friend the other day. I have been engaging in a little more anti-porn talk on the podcasts I appear on and presentations I make lately. I’ve tried not to come off as anti-porn because I believe the people who need the most help are pro-porn. Being anti-porn is passing judgment and addicts generally don’t respond well to being judged. That said, I also fully subscribe to the idea that all porn is objectification. There is no other reason to look at pornography than to objectify the person in the images being looked at or watched. Pornhub doesn’t exist to play “Guess this person’s IQ!”

I mentioned that porn is never a good thing because of the objectification, my friend asked the question if all objectification is wrong. I said that I thought it was, even when it’s a simple as seeing a pretty girl on the street. I’m not saying it can be helped necessarily, but I did say it was wrong. He brought up the idea of people making themselves look good, especially for a blind date. Aren’t those people specifically trying to appeal to the other person on nothing more than a visual level? He also brought up the fact that most people don’t want to be in a relationship with somebody unless they find their partner physically attractive. He said that’s just part of how evolution works.

I thought it was a fascinating point to make and one that I’m still wrestling with. I’d be curious to hear your opinions if there is such a thing as acceptable, or perhaps even necessary, self-objectification.

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I was going through the list of bloggers that I follow and saw the number had exceeded 100. It doesn’t feel that way when I look through the Reader section of WordPress, so I checked into the blogs I follow and it was amazing how many people haven’t kept up with their blogs. I went through and deleted every blog that hadn’t updated in at least four months. By the time I was done, I only had 56 blogs left. Some of them were amazing and I wonder what happened to those people. Others, often about addiction, just abruptly stopped and I worry what happened to those people.

*********

When I first went to rehab for alcoholism in 2014, I was told by a recovered heroin user that people who are heavy addicts will often dream for years about their addiction, and using. I have to admit, that’s never happened with me and pornography. I have never had a dream about it. I did however, go through a long stretch of having dreams about alcohol and over the last few weeks, they have returned.

Almost all of the dreams are the same. I am usually at a bar or a party and somebody offers me a pint of beer. I say no. Then, the dream jumps forward and I’m sitting with a couple of empty pint glasses in front of me and I immediately recoil in disgust. I can’t understand how I could have drank those beers since I haven’t had alcohol going back to April 1, 2014. I am thoroughly disturbed in the dream at the idea that I “just forgot” I had years of sobriety.

There was a wrinkle in the latest dream. I was faced with drinking and I said to myself, “Well, since I already slipped up, I guess I could” and for the first time in years, I recall drinking beer in one of my dreams. I think it’s fascinating that in my dream world, I relapsed in one dream and used it as an excuse to continue drinking in another dream. This is just another reminder that for all the energy I put toward pornography addiction awareness, I personally have to keep just as strong a watch over the alcohol.

The Sad Reality of Addiction and No Hope

This is much longer than most of what I write, but I think it illustrates the all-or-nothing mindset to life most addicts have. The only alteration to reality is that I changed people’s names.

Aside from the rotund early-20s-something Brackett, I was the longest tenured primary patient at Spencer Recovery Center’s Palm Springs location, with 52 days behind me to that point. I was running the morning meeting and it seemed like Sam, the program director and Allison, the office manager, both leaned on me when they needed help. Sam asked me if I wanted to be an intern just as I was coming out of the morning meeting.

It meant I didn’t have to attend one of the three group sessions every day and there was more leeway when visitors came, but I had to make sure the primaries — what we called the patients who had been there less than 28 days — were behaving for an eight-hour shift, six days per week. I didn’t understand what the upside was and he said, “You’ll be helping out.” I asked if it reduced my costs at all and he said no. He said the fact I was in my mid-30s made me accessible to both the younger patients and the older. I told him that if he needed me to do anything, I’d be happy to help, but I didn’t want to be an official intern until the 60-day mark, when it was mandatory. I was very comfortable and saw no reason to take on anything extra.

The van from Laguna Beach, where the detox and main Spencer facility was, would show up twice a week, dropping a few people off who were deemed to have the demeanor for Palm Springs. I was lucky in that I only spent my first 8 days in Laguna Beach.

The calmness of Palm Springs did catch up to many people. Laguna Beach was a den of drama where drugs and sex were rampant. Palm Springs was not. I don’t think anybody was having sex and it seemed like any time someone did drugs, they were found out quickly. We would max out at 30 patients in Palm Springs where Laguna Beach had about 50. It was much healthier for my recovery from alcoholism.

I made an effort to get to know everyone’s name, but I’d guess I only became close friends with one out of every six or seven people. You could spot from a mile away who was going to get kicked out or simply walk out the door, and with those people, I never got too close.

We had our fair share of “hot messes” as Brackett would call them, meaning girls between the ages of 18 and 21 who seemed like on the outside that they were from lower-socioeconomic homes, yet had a sense of entitlement that the world owed them something. They were clearly promiscuous, with many having their first kid around 16 and some with two and even three kids. They were often loud, enjoyed swearing at the top of their lungs and among the most rattled by the calmness displayed by those of us who lasted more than a week in Palm Springs.

While I didn’t make friends with the “hot messes” it bothered me when they would get kicked out. Usually it was for drinking, which I couldn’t understand because I know it wasn’t about satiating their addiction. It was about looking cool. How much fun could it be to get hammered at rehab? What are you going to do? Get tipsy and watch Family Guy? Either these girls had the worst judgment (something that was hard to argue against) or they just needed to be rebellious, which seemed to be the real answer. When they would get kicked out, they would usually be given anywhere from two-to-six hours additional on the Palm Springs property to figure something out. Those who lived in California were usually able to get a friend or family member to pick them up. Those who were from other parts of the country could usually get family members to wire them money to get home. Sometimes though, their first, second and third plans fell through and despite being young girls who constantly postured that they were “bad bitches” in control of their lives, they broke down crying, not knowing what they were going to do because they were hours away from homelessness if a plan didn’t come together.

My daughter was turning 14 in a couple of months and while to the best of my knowledge she had never touched drugs or alcohol, nor could I ever see her engaging in the kind of stupid behavior most high school teens did, you never know what’s going to happen and the idea of her ending up in a rehab facility in a few years really scared me and broke my heart. Despite the fact these hot messes were not people I socialized with, when they dropped their “bad bitch” acts, they were young, frightened girls and I’d seen my daughter frightened before.

One of the girls I rarely talked to, among everyone’s least favorite, was a 19-year-old called Tawny. She’d been caught drinking for a second time, freaked about it when confronted during our morning group and was kicked out. Told she had only a few hours to leave, she joined us in the van to go to the Friday night AA meeting at City Hall in the City Council chambers. She thought her sponsor would be there and could help her plan what to do next.

The first half of the meeting was typical AA business and mantras. At the 30-minute mark, they would take a short break. The last 30-to-45 minutes was a speaker, who would talk about how AA saved them. I would sit there week after week and think it was some kind of karma that I had to sit in the room where the City Council did its work whereas back home, it was being a City Councilor that contributed to my demise. At least Sonny Bono was never the mayor of my town.

Devising a plan

At the break, I was sitting on a bench about 20 yards from the front door, smoking a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but there was nothing to do in rehab so I took up for the habit for three months. Tawny came over and asked me if I had another, so I gave her one. Never be the asshole who won’t hand out cigarettes in rehab. Nobody likes that person, and they’ll tell you so.

She was a pretty girl, but you could tell the last several years had not been kind to her. When she did her hair and makeup, she was presentable, but without, she looked somewhat haggard. Of all the girls at Spencer, she also seemed to gain weight the fastest. She had to put on at least 20 pounds in the three weeks she’d been there, but it didn’t stop her from wearing the same bikini, which couldn’t hide her growing butt and stomach. She should have been tossed multiple times, but throwing a full bowl of cereal during a process group at Sam when he briefly checked in to ask her about the bottles he found was the last straw. She was given until 9 p.m. to get off the property.

She was told she’d have to be off the Spencer property 30 minutes after we returned from the AA meeting she was hoping to find the absent sponsor at. I knew she lived in California, but didn’t know her plan and wasn’t going to ask.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. My sponsor isn’t here and isn’t answering my calls,” she said matter-of-factly sitting down next to me. I felt bad, but she didn’t seem to care. She had been caught drinking the first time about a week earlier. They put her on a “behavior contract” which stated she had to follow all the rules. She stopped attending some of the group sessions three days before she finally got kicked out and when she did attend, she often brought food against the rules or was a distraction. It was certainly not a surprise to anyone when she was told to leave.

“At 9 p.m. you’re on the street, I heard.” I said.

“I know.”

“Well, what have you tried to do?”

“I tried calling my Mom. She lives in Long Beach, but she doesn’t want to talk to me. Neither does my grandma in Manhattan Beach.”

“Everybody in your family live at beaches?”

“Pretty much,” she said.

“What about friends?” I asked.

“None of them are going to drive 100 miles to Palm Springs,” she said.

“You do realize there aren’t many homeless shelters in Palm Springs, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I heard Sam say that in a meeting the other day,” said Tawny.

“So what are you going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, this time more seriously. We stopped talking and smoked our cigarettes. A few minutes later, a bell rung letting people know they needed to return to the auditorium.

“Ready to head in?” I asked, but noticed she had turned away and had tears coming down her face.

“What am I going to do?” she said through tears and threw her arms around my midsection for what others saw as a hug, but what I could tell was more clinging to hope. I put my arms around her and she started bawling into my chest.

“You’re strong. You’re going to be OK,” I said. “Keep crying, it’s OK. We don’t have to go in.”

She cried for another two or three minutes then pulled herself together and sat up.

“Sorry I got your shirt all wet,” she said, wiping the snot from her upper lip.

“We’re in the desert, it’ll dry in five minutes,” I said and she laughed. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to come up with multiple plans and we’ll figure out the best to the worst, OK?”

She nodded and looked incredibly vulnerable, like a little girl. “OK,” she said sheepishly.

“Do you know anybody around here?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

“And you have no family, no friends who are willing to come pick you up…none?”

“I don’t think so. I called everyone on my phone that made sense,” said Tawny.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want to call someone who is just going to get me fucked up. I want to stay clean,” she said.

“That’s commendable,” I said.

“And I don’t want to go back to being a prostitute,” she said.

“You were a prostitute?”

“Yeah, for a year. It was the only way I could pay for a place for me and my son. I couldn’t stay with anyone else so I did what I had to,” she said, sniffling and still trying to pull herself together. “If I could get to Laguna Beach, I have some friends there.”

“I’m not judging. We do what we have to,” I said, realizing I now knew a teenage prostitute. I was becoming more like a character from a Lifetime movie every day at rehab. “Would anybody at Spencer be willing to sneak you back into their room late at night?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. There were only a handful of girls at Spencer and I didn’t think any were close with Tawny. There were a couple of scuzzy younger guys who might, but the odds of them not getting caught were non-existent and she knew they’d expect something in return.

I checked my phone (yeah, it was one of the rare rehabs that let us have our cell phones. We can debate the merit of it another time) and found Mickey’s number. He lived in the desert nearby with his girlfriend and had left Spencer before Tawny arrived, which was probably to her advantage. He didn’t know what a pain in the ass she could be.

“I’m going to call my friend Mickey. He was at Spencer before you got there. He’s probably about 30. He and his girlfriend Sharon are pretty cool. They’re clean and they did like 90 days each here. I’ll see if you can stay with them one night, but tomorrow you have to figure something else out,” I said.

“I can probably get a friend to come tomorrow,” she said.

“OK, and if they say no, we’ll ask Tom if you can sleep in his truck tonight. If he says no, when we get back, I’ll say I forgot something in the van that brings us here and I’ll leave it unlocked and you can sleep in there.” I said.

Tom was a patient my age who I bonded with quickly. He was a member of the Hell’s Angels who drove himself to the facility, so his truck was sitting in the parking lot. While I know he enjoyed the party lifestyle, I also had a suspicion he was hanging out in rehab because it was a safe place to hide from the police.

“Thank you, Josh. I’m sorry I was such a bitch to you,” Tawny said.

“You were never a bitch to me of if you were, I just ignored it. Promise me that you won’t be so defiant in the future. You would have a bed there tonight, your bed, if you didn’t break the rules,” I said.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

I called Mickey and explained the situation, trying to play up the fact she was a scared, young girl and playing down the mouthy teenager I saw far more often. He asked Sharon if it would be OK and they both agreed to take her for a night. Mickey said they were renting a house near Joshua Tree National Park, so it would take him about 40 minutes to get to Spencer. Since we weren’t going to be back for a half hour, it was good timing.

Tawny gave me a hug and again apologized for everything. I didn’t tell her that I liked problem solving, especially other people’s problems, far more than I enjoyed listening to someone talk about how AA saved them. We sat on the bench for another 20 minutes waiting for the meeting to finish. We talked about her son, my daughter and what she pictured her future looking like. She wanted to eventually get to Hollywood to do hair and makeup for movies and TV shows. She said she’d taken half the cosmetology courses she needed to get her license. Her grandmother, who had custody of her son, said once she finished that schooling, she could live with them. I tried to tell her what great choices those were and how she should strive for that dream. I told her to imagine 10 years from now, when she’d be making good money and having a son who was proud of her. It seemed to perk her up.

When we returned, Tom and I helped Tawny take her bags out to the parking lot area. He was given access to his truck after 30 days and mentioned he had to go to Laguna Beach to sign paperwork at that facility and he could give her a ride there the next day.

“See, everything does work out,” I said.

Tom and I waited a few minutes with her before Mickey and Sharon showed up. I thanked both of them and they said they were just going to watch videos that night and Tawny seemed very grateful. I hoped she could pull the gracious houseguest act for at least a night. Tom said he’d pick her up very early at Mickey’s house, like 6:30 a.m. and take her to Laguna Beach. Tawny once again thanked me, gave several people seeing her off hugs and left with Mickey and Sharon. I felt good that I came to her rescue, even if only for a night.

Happily never after

I got a call from Tom shortly before the 10:30 a.m. group meeting the next morning.

“So, we’re on the way to Laguna and she asks me to stop at 7-11 so she can get coffee. Instead of coffee, she comes out with a handle of vodka. Before she even gets back into the car, she’s drank half of it. I told her she couldn’t drink when I was driving, so she drank another half of what was left. I have brothers in the Angels who are drunks that can’t drink in an hour what she drank in three minutes,” he said.

“Where were you?”

“We hadn’t even got out of Joshua Tree yet!” he said. “Then, we start to go and she starts begging me to take her to that hotel down the street in Palm Springs so she can get dope. And I asked her what money she had and she said she could just blow a guy to get what she needed.”

“Jesus Christ,” I muttered into my cell phone.

“I told her we didn’t have time and about three minutes later, she’s asleep. She wakes up like after 40 minutes and sticks her head out the window and pukes all over the side of my truck. So we had to get off the highway and wash the side of the truck at a car wash. She pukes like two more times while we’re there and then said she’d be OK,” said Tom.

“Did she get fucked up at Mickey and Sharon’s house?” I asked.

“No, Mickey said she was great. They watched a movie and she fell asleep halfway through.”

“So what happened then?”

“Once she was done puking, we got back in the truck and kept going. She’s on her phone the whole time and like five friends of hers all said she couldn’t stay with them. I don’t know what the fuck she’s done to her friends but she doesn’t have any fucking friends. Once she tried that, she called a guy and told him if he gave her a place to stay, she’d work for him again.”

“As a hooker?”

“Yeah. She said she fucked guys for anywhere from $50 to $200 and if she was lucky, she’d get half the money,” Tom said.

“So she’s going back to being a prostitute?”

“I dropped her off in front of what looked like a crack house in Laguna Hills,” he said.

“There are crack houses in Laguna Hills?” I asked.

“There are crack houses everywhere,” Tom said.

“That’s disappointing,” I said.

Her time at Spencer meant nothing. She was drunk again and planning on selling her body, something she had told me less than 24 hours earlier she didn’t want to do. The optimist in me said that it was the booze talking and once it wore off she’d come to her senses, but the realist in me knew it wasn’t true and her bad upbringing and addiction had not been conquered, and probably hadn’t even been affected by her time at Spencer.

“You can only save yourself,” Tom said. “Anyway, I’ll be back this afternoon. Talk to you later. Bye.”

“Bye,” I said and hung up. Tawny was on my mind for a few minutes, but my daughter was the one really on my mind. I know Tawny’s parents were not helpful, but I didn’t know if that mattered. Most of the people who were young at Spencer had parents visit who seemed like great people. How do decent parents, like I’d like to believe my wife and I are, keep our children from using? Whoever figures out a foolproof plan could make a lot of money.

I walked into the office before the meeting and told Sam I was ready to be an intern.

 

What was inpatient rehab really like? Part I

It’s been nearly a year since I talked about my experience at inpatient rehab, and the positive reaction I got to the last Q&A has made me think it’s probably time to revisit it from a first-person point-of-view deeper than I have before.

This is going to be a multi-part piece as I think it’s worthy of really explaining what rehab is like. I’ll try to stay under 1,000 words per piece.

I’m going to talk about my experience at the second rehab I attended in the summer of 2015, specifically for the pornography addiction. The first facility I attended was in California for alcohol treatment. While it was a transformative experience, it was more about me being alone with my thoughts in the desert vs. any amazing modalities of treatment they provided.

The rehabilitation center I’m talking about, Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was an intense and invaluable experience. I believe that if I had not spent seven weeks in that hot Lone Star State sun I would not be the person I am today.

I’ve said it before, but on paper, rehab shouldn’t work. You shouldn’t be able to take 30-40 very broken people, many of whom are forced into the situation by their family or the law, and get positive results.

There are quite a few rules one must follow. In the case of Sante, you had to be up by 6:30 a.m., at the morning group for 7:30, attend your classes, groups and one-on-one meetings during the day, and be in bed by 11 p.m. Although most of the classes were co-ed, men and women were kept separate for many activities, including meals, and they were not allowed onto each other’s side of the facility where the dorms were. Men and women were also not allowed to be left alone in one-on-one situations.

You were given 15 minutes a day for telephone calls, were not allowed to leave the property except in the rarest of circumstances and all outside media, including magazines and books, were considered contraband. The only connection to outside news we had was a copy of the Dallas Morning News and whatever we were told on the telephone.

The biggest news event that happened while I was there was the national ruling allowing gay marriage. I’m from Maine, so it had been a thing here for a while, but if you’re someone like me who is social liberally and you enjoy watching conservatives squirm in the face of change – which I do – being in the heart of the Bible Belt when that went down was glorious.

I think I didn’t have too rough a transition into the jail environment because in many ways, rehab was a lot like a minimum security prison. Sure, you could walk away, but to where? It was like Alcatraz in the middle of nowhere.

In my circumstance, I had to stay. I was there for the therapy, but my lawyer also thought a treatment completed certificate would go a long way for my legal case. I learned so much about myself, but I had extra incentive to stick around and see things through to the end.

At first, the way they do things seems foreign. In the morning meeting, each person goes around and says who they are, what they are grateful for and what their plan is for the day while the group responds. For instance, I might say,

“Hello, my name is Josh”

“Hi, Josh” the group says back in Stepford Wives unison.

“…and I’m a pornography addict.”

“But you’re so much more,” they say together in a dead montone.

“Yes I am. Today I am grateful for the support of my family.”

“Yes, you are,” they say.

“And today I’m going to work on my listening skills.”

“Yes you will,” they respond, and then the next person goes.

On day one, this seems completely fucking nutty. By day 21, you’re chanting along with the rest of them. Throughout both of my rehabs, I heard a lot of people say they thought that the program was designed as something of a brainwashing exercise. Most counselors or professionals always shrugged it off, but my favorite reaction came from one counselor who agreed.

“Look at the choices you’ve been making. Don’t you think a little brainwashing might be exactly what you need?” he told somebody. I thought it was brilliant.

There was also a section of the morning meeting where people would self-report breaking the rules, or admit to not keeping up a promise. For instance, if I didn’t work on my listening skills, I was supposed to self-report the following day.

The final section of the meeting was confrontations. This was when somebody else would confront you about one of your behaviors and you couldn’t respond for 24 hours. We used the “When You/I Feel” confrontation model.

For instance, I might say, “Michael, when you stop coming to yoga and meditation classes, I feel worried that you’re not taking in the full scope of rehab.”

The next day at the morning meeting, you’re supposed to say if the confrontation fits, or does not fit, and leave it at that.

This caused a little bit of bad blood among certain people and I realized very earlier on that I did not want to confront people. I believed that each of us had a program to work and if somebody didn’t want to put their all into it, or didn’t want to follow their rules, that was on them. One of the counselors there confronted me on this opinion, but I still hold true to it today. Maybe it’s wrong, but unless you’re doing something massively wrong or hurting someone else, it’s not my spot to police you.

 

Q&A Time: Should I Go to Inpatient Rehab for My Addiction?

QUESTION: I have been told by my girlfriend that she thinks I should go to rehab for my porn addiction. I don’t think I need to leave for a month because it’s not that bad. What should I do?

ANSWER: This is probably worth a conversation with a professional so they can weigh-in. Assuming they don’t see losing you for a month or two as lost revenue, they’ll probably guide you in the right direction.

I probably urge people to go to inpatient rehab quicker than most, but that’s because my two stints, first for alcohol and a year later for porn, were the most transformative experiences of my life. Both times I walked into the facility as one person and walked out somebody else.

It’s easy to make excuses why you shouldn’t go. You have a job, help with the kids, have other responsibilities. I would counter that needing a break to take care of one’s health is just as important as all of those things.

My wife ran the house when I did my 10-week and 7-week stints at inpatient rehab, respectively. Thankfully, we were in a financial position where that was possible, but even if we didn’t have savings, I would have found a way. I would have asked for help from family and friends. People don’t want to do that, but people generally like to help people who are helping themselves. Insurance can help and many of these places will consider payment plans. If finances preclude you from one rehab, keep shopping around. I had horrible insurance for my alcohol rehab. I just flat-out couldn’t go to most, but eventually, I found one and I can’t imagine it being a more positive experience if the amenities had been better. I haven’t had a drink since I went there. Isn’t that the point?

I’ve encountered so many people who make excuses why they can’t go to rehab, and while they are almost always valid, I also bring up the point that my wife ran the household for six months while I served my jail sentence. In that case, I did have to ask my parents for help, and it wasn’t a surprise when they were there for us.

With jail, I didn’t have a choice to go or not. We had to adapt. What would happen if your partner was caught for drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days. Would your world implode? Probably not. You’d figure it out and you’d get through it. My wife is proof of that. You can adapt when you HAVE to, and since this is your health we’re talking about, it makes sense to adapt.

I actually think the time that I was away was like a rehab for my family. They needed time away from my energy and my illness. They needed to reconnect instead of hovering around me like satellites. I actually made the comment to my wife shortly thereafter that they all seemed to be far more functional and healthy when I returned both times because they didn’t have to deal with me.

I know people who have had successful recovery having never stepped foot into rehab and I know plenty of people who have never been able to get into a recovery groove despite having gone to rehab five or six times. Like anything, it’s the level of commitment one puts into their recovery. It’s hard, really hard some days, but rehab was the foundation upon which I built my recovery.

I truly believe I would not have had the strength to maintain recovery as well as I did had I not gone to recovery and begun the process of understanding how I became the person I did. Maybe I would have reached the same place over a longer time period with just one-on-one and group therapy at home, but I know just how much inpatient rehab did for me.

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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: While many call me a pornography addiction expert, I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Waking Up From Dreams Makes Me Sad

When I go on podcasts or radio shows to discuss my pornography addiction and people ask what’s the worst thing that has come out of my last five years, first from my heinous mistakes, then my legal ordeal, and the fallout since, I usually talk about how I’ve created victims and can’t change that fact.

I still think that is the worst part, and I hate to be at all self-centered or self-pitying, but I personally underwent massive seismic changes in my life and none has been more unexpected than losing 99% of the people I used to call acquaintances and friends. I have to say this is second place in what has become the worst part of things.

Most of the time I handle this OK. I’m actually a very solitary person. I’d rather work from home doing my own thing than a cubicle farm in some office. The only thing I liked about working at those places in the past was the interaction with co-workers a couple times a day. I’m a loner who doesn’t like to be alone.

I feel that longing for human interaction most of all when I’m dreaming as I sleep. Or, I should say I feel it most when I first wake up. The subconscious is a weird thing. One moment you’re in high school, the next you’re on a road trip and the next you’re in the hospital. The mix of people is just as random, but for whatever reason, our brain makes sense of the crazy narrative thread, even if your fifth grade teacher is interacting with your first boss.

When I wake up, I’m so, so sad. Nobody asks me about my crime in the dreams. In real life, people ask how I’m doing out of duty because they ran into me at Home Depot or just flat-out give me the cold shoulder. That doesn’t happen in dreams. When I wake up, I recognize I haven’t talked to any of those people since the day I was arrested. I haven’t talked to some of the people in a much longer time, but most are people who were part of my life at that point everything changed.

The only ones who are more recent are the people I met at one of two rehabs I attended. It’s hard to explain just how close you get so quickly to that group of people. I’ve been told it’s like being in a foxhole by people who have done both. The problem is, once you’re out of that incredibly intense bonding experience, you see all the differences. While I’ve tried both times, I haven’t been able to maintain casual friendships with people outside of rehab.

I’m not going to get into specific storylines in dreams, because let’s face it, nobody likes to hear other people explain their dreams. As these dreams are unfolding, they are in a world where I haven’t committed a crime by encouraging a teenager to perform sex acts in a computer chat room. Nobody ever asks about that in the dreams. Nobody seems to know it ever happened.

It’s almost magical being able to escape that, because it’s very different in real life. When something like my entire ordeal happens, you understand certain things will change. But then there are little things, like when I was in jail and would see restaurant commercials on TV. You enter jail worrying about getting beat up and what the shower situation is, but you never think about seeing things you can’t have on TV.

I think this dream world is like that. In my blissful slumber, I’m devoid of the self-inflicted shunning. In the next, I’m awake, and mourn a world that I will never be able to go back to in my waking hours.

I’m not asking for pity or ideas to recirculate back into society as I know that ship has sailed. Instead, I just urge anyone who is doing anything illegal, pornographic or not, to try and think about all the little things you’ll miss if you’re caught.

I saw a guy leave my pod in jail to head to state prison where he was to serve 20 years. My sentence was nothing compared to his and his crimes deserve that long. But he was also a human I got to know.  A human who won’t see his friends at the bar he talked about often, a human who won’t have a steak dinner until 2036 and a human who will wear only khaki or blue for the next two decades. Those may seem like little things, but when you’re living them, they’re not.

I’m 4.5 years away from that fateful day I was arrested and regardless of any jail, probation, offender’s registry or anything else the legal system throws my way, I’ll be paying for this crime in ways I never imagined for the rest of my life…except when I take a nap.