Reflecting on the Differences Between My Two Stays in Rehab

Telling friends, family and co-workers I was heading off to inpatient rehab for sexual addiction elicited quite a different response than when I told them a year earlier that I was entering a facility for my alcoholism. When I admitted the bottle was my demon, I was treated as a hero and got plenty of pats on the back; when it was my sexual issues, people looked at me like they’d just smelled cow manure.

People knew I was a drunk, or at least had issues around alcohol. I took great strides to hide the true extent of the problem, but few seemed surprised when they learned I was getting help. I think that lack of surprise may have helped convince me that there was a problem. On the other hand, my pornography addiction was hidden, played out online in the middle of the night through websites and chat rooms, away from my “real life.” Nobody knew.

Finding a facility for alcoholism was easy. It was more a matter of deciding where in the country I wanted to be and what was within my price range. I went with Spencer Recovery Centers in Palm Springs, California.

Pornography addiction isn’t as easy. There are plenty of facilities that list “sexual issues” as one of their areas of treatment, but after preliminary questioning of their intake coordinators, most admit they don’t have the programming or expertise to treat actual sexual addiction. Once my alcoholism was reined in, it was clear just how much the porn addiction had taken over my life and that I needed treatment exclusive to the condition. After an exhaustive search, I had a list of only 8-10 reputable, accredited facilities with multiple CSATs (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) on staff.

I was told when searching for a rehab center for alcoholism that I had terrible insurance, yet my carrier allowed me to stay a total of 70 days, only having to pick-up 15% of the price once my deductible was met. Between rehab stints (about 10 months), my wife got a job with a larger company resulting in better health insurance for our family. The facility I ended up choosing just outside Dallas, was ecstatic with the insurance I had since it was one of the few carriers that took sex/porn addiction seriously. I don’t know if this was the typical pitch addicts need to be leery of when talking to intake coordinators, but as it turns out, there is no “sexual addiction” designation when it comes to insurance.

I was technically admitted to Sante Center for Healing with “chronic impulsivity disorder” with a secondary diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which I’d been dealing with for almost 15 years and was already well-documented by the insurance company. Three weeks into my stay there, I was called to the rehab’s business office, which was never a good sign, and told my insurance company had dropped me completely. The other four weeks were all out-of-pocket, an almost unfathomable increase from the 10% of the overall cost I was already picking up. My life savings disappeared.

The facility in California catered to drug addicts and alcoholics. Many of the younger addicts, most of whom have hopefully come to recognize they also have drinking problems, often dismissed those of us who were exclusively alcoholic.

“The reason I never graduated to heroin,” I would explain when alcoholism was laughed at as a problem, “is because alcohol did what I needed it to. I’m lucky in that I didn’t have to use hard drugs to get relief, but keep in mind, when we get out of here, my drug of choice is at every 7-11. My drug of choice is on almost every restaurant menu, and my drug of choice is socially acceptable.” Sometimes this explanation was understood, often it fell on deaf ears.

At my second treatment facility in Texas, which housed around 40 patients, most were seeking help for drugs and alcohol, but about 10 of us were there for sex/porn addiction and a half-dozen were struggling with eating disorders. Once again, those with chemical dependency issues questioned why the rest of us were there.

“It’s easy to understand the goal of your addiction because I’m an alcoholic, too,” was how I’d launch into the explanation. “Stop using X. X can be heroin, X can be whiskey, X can be meth, but the goal is to stop. There is no healthy use for a chemical addict. You can’t tell one of these eating disorder girls that they need to stop eating. You can’t tell me to no longer be a sexual being. It’s part of our DNA and managing it in a healthy way is the goal, not complete abstinence.” Sometimes this explanation was understood, often it fell on deaf ears.

Having spent seven weeks around-the-clock with so many admitted sex/porn addicts, it was clear there is far more shame associated with the addiction than among those suffering with chemical dependency. This has also rung true for me post-treatment in attending 12-step meetings. If there’s an addiction that trades in shame more than sex/porn, I apologize for not knowing about it.

It’s not fair to compare the actual treatment of the two facilities, nor to make sweeping generalizations of all alcohol or sexual addiction rehabs. The California center favored a group dynamic and 12-step meetings off campus, while the Texas facility featured a heavy dose of one-on-one counseling and took a more holistic approach to recovery.

Alcoholism and sex addiction are very different maladies, each with their own host of issues and problems, but they are also similar in their brain chemistry and destruction. I would not have been able to address my negative sexual behavior had I not got the alcoholism under control first. I don’t know if that means one addiction was worse than the other, or which that would be, but I’m grateful I was able to experience inpatient care for both. It’s a shame attempting to overcome one addiction puts me on a pedestal and the other causes recoiling and disgusted faces, but I’ll take all of the adulation and all of the scorn if it continues to result in the healthy road of recovery I currently enjoy.

I know there are thousands of people who have defeated their addictions without inpatient rehab stays, but I also know that mine were absolutely invaluable and I can’t imagine being where I am today without them.

 

 

Progress and Evolution Always Win, Even When it Comes to Your Addiction

I was flipping through the news/political channels on the TV this morning and a rush of thoughts came to me, and of course because of who I am, I started overanalyzing them in terms of addiction.

As you may know, I stay away from the news as much as possible these days and my political leanings are dead center. I’d be a registered Libertarian if I ever decided to vote.

Conservatives really don’t want things to change, or at least want them to change at a much slower rate than they ever do. Liberals want things to change today, right now. It occurred to me that in the end, the liberals will always win not because they are correct in their beliefs, but simply because time marches on. Given enough time, slaves are freed, women get the vote and homosexuals are allowed to get married. It’s not even that the liberals win. It’s that progress wins because progress is just time measured by milestones.

In nature, it’s a similar game called evolution. The strong survive and the weak – even if they are monster lizards who roamed the Earth for millions of years – eventually disappear. And even those who in the strongest category die because everything living dies eventually. You can’t slow evolution, even if you’re one of the people who refuses to believe in it. Evolution doesn’t care.

Thinking about progress and evolution made me think of some of the people I met in rehab. While I went once for alcoholism and another for porn/sex addiction, I look at them as two completely different successful experiences. Many of the people I got to know had nothing close to that success record.

There was one guy who must have been about 22. He was handsome, a bit of a jock and a genuinely sweet guy. He was at rehab for the eighth time. The guy he was roommates with, who was very similar, except he wasn’t a sweet guy, was in rehab for his 10th time. Both just couldn’t kick their heroin addiction and both went because they were told repeatedly they’d get cut off financially if they didn’t attend.

Today, more than four years later, one of them seems to be thriving as an EMT. The other has been dead for two years. You can’t tell which one is which based on my description I bet. I wouldn’t have been able to tell who would be successful and who would succumb.

The guy who worked for the rehab and lived at the small motel-like property that I was stationed at in my first stint was probably in his late 20s. He went to rehab 14 times, but for some reason, that 15th time did the trick. Except for the first two times, all of them were ordered by a judge between his short stints in jail or on probation. When I checked up on him a year ago, he’s still sober and working at a ranch that focuses on recovery somewhere in the Dakotas or Montana.

I can run through a motley crew of characters – there’s the 50-year-old former Hells’ Angel and his 18-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant and couldn’t kick her heroin habit; he was hiding out in rehab from the law and wanted to get her straight before the baby was born, or the beautiful former major-market newscaster who relapsed three times in the two weeks I knew her before deciding rehab wasn’t for her – and unfortunately with most of these people I have no idea what happened.

These people are either healthy, dead, or much, much worse off if they happen to still be alive. Yes, most of them had drug-related issues, but I’ve followed up with some of my friends who had eating disorders, sex or gambling addictions and everybody seems to have similar stories.

My point is that there’s a shelf life for an addict. They’ve abused themselves for years and always get away with it. A life continuing to go down the toilet? Ironically, that’s called progress. They’ve tried to be conservative and keep things as they are with their use, but progress escalates things. Progress never lets things stay the same. If they’ve tried to quit immediately, it’s almost always a failure because they immediately demand too much from their mental or physical health in too short a time, almost like a liberal mindset.

Then there are those who are much worse off if they still happen to be alive. They’ll either eventually see the light and walk the long, grueling path to recovery. Those who don’t will die. That’s just evolution.

The message to me was that you keep going to rehab, or at least seeking help, until you get it right because the alternative shouldn’t be anybody’s alternative. If you aren’t one of those people who can stop on your own, get the professional help from people who know how to help and what speed. Recovery is like a dimmer switch, it can go brighter or darker, but it doesn’t just turn on or off. Professional help are the electricians who can try to help before you short circuit yourself to an early grave.

Progress and evolution – they are forces of nature. We have to work with, not against, them.

 

 

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.

‘Radical Acceptance’ Has Been Crucial to My Successful Addiction Recovery

One of the more important tools I developed in recovery has been the practice of radical acceptance. I was once called out for not having any radical acceptance ability when I was in rehab and it forced me to reflect on the accusation.

Several of the residents were allowed to attend an “outside” 12-step meeting, meaning they went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting off the rehab property with regular community members. On their way back, they stopped off at a store and bought candy and energy drinks, which were both forbidden at the rehab. Their car was searched upon return and the contraband was discovered.

The next day, at our large group morning meeting, one of the counselors told us because of the actions of those four residents, all visitor’s passes would be cancelled the following weekend.

A few of the residents who had family or friends visiting got visibly upset and/or angry.

“This is meant to make you all accountable to one another,” the counselor told the group. “It’s a skill you need to develop. If you were in an office and one of your co-workers was flaunting the rules, your co-workers would come together and set them straight.”

I had always thought I had an overdeveloped sense of justice/injustice, and it was going off like a light on top of a firetruck. I couldn’t stand to see many of my friends denied visits with their families.

“Your rationalization is bullshit,” I said loudly.

“What is that, Mr. Shea?” the counselor asked.

“That’s a pathetic rationalization. First, if we were co-workers, that person would get fired. The entire team wouldn’t. Sure, we could complain to the boss about them, but none of us even knew what these guys did. Second, making each other accountable isn’t actually the way the world works. That’s why we have police and the legal system. We don’t punish all of society for one person’s wrongs.”

“Mr. Shea, do you family visiting you?” the counselor asked.

“No, they’re all in California or the northeast. They’re not flying to Texas to see me,” I explained.

“Then why does this particular situation concern you?” she asked.

“Because it’s not fair,” I said. “It’s not fair to the people who have family and friends coming.”

“Yet none of them are talking,” she said. “It’s you, who doesn’t even have a stake in this.”

“Whatever,” I said, and let it go, seething silently.

It kind of bothered me none of the people affected spoke up. It bothered me even more when a few hours later, I saw them joking and laughing with each other – and the counselor who delivered the news. It dawned on me that I was more upset about a situation that had no bearing on me whatsoever, than people who were directly involved. Something didn’t make sense about it.

Later that day, I sought out that counselor and told her that while the (in my eyes) unjust punishment was still bothering me, the others seemed to move on, and I didn’t understand how they could just do that.

She told me that she knew I believed I had a strong sense of justice and injustice, but she recognized it for what it was. It was really about power and control. I disagreed, but she pointed out as long as it was my allies, I was fine with other people in control, but the moment someone had it and I felt threatened, I confused it with injustice.

“You know you’re probably going to see a little jail time for what you did, right?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I explained. “Technically, I already pled guilty, but when I get home, they’ll look at the fact I went here and to another rehab for alcoholism and that I’m in therapy…”

“You’ll probably do 6 to 12 months,” she interrupted.

“My lawyer is hoping for no time,” I said.

“They always hope for that, and I hope you get no time, but if you do, be prepared that there is nothing you can do about it,” she said.

I looked at her somewhat blankly not wanting to admit she was correct.

“Do you know why none of your friends are still freaking out about their visitors? They’ve learned to practice radical acceptance. That’s where sometimes, no matter what happens, you’re not in control and you just have to accept it and move on.”

It took some reflection, but I was able to recognize plenty of times in my life that I tried to manipulate a situation I didn’t want to accept under the guise of injustice. I also recognized how many times I ended up begrudgingly accepting something I couldn’t control, and how when I finally let it go, it rarely stuck with me very long.

As I’ve made my way through recovery, I’ve done a lot of reading about radical acceptance. That counselor simplified the concept. For me, what’s it really about is the pain and suffering that comes from not being in control.

When I don’t let something I can’t control go, I suffer more pain than if I just moved on. Refusing to accept the pain by refusing to let things go just brings additional suffering, and who really wants that?

About eight months after my conversation with the counselor, I got a sentence of nine months (of which I served six.) As the judge was reading her verdict, a bit of a calm came over me. I now knew what my punishment would be, and I was at peace with it because there wasn’t anything I could do about it and it would be a waste of time to try.

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean being lazy. It doesn’t give an excuse to not standing up against the real injustices of the world, but for people who were power-hungry control freaks like I was, it’s a way to gain perspective.

 

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.