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.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.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.