Is it Possible for an Addict to Go From “Recovering” to “Recovered?”

If you’re reading this on the day I wrote it, April 2, 2019, today marks five years of sobriety from alcohol. I also count this as my sobriety date from pornography, although it technically was a few days earlier. If you would have ever told me I’d go five years without either of my nearly life-long addictions, I’d have said it could only happen once I was put in the ground.

I won’t be attending AA to pick up my five-year chip. I believe I took from the program what I could in about six months of attending meetings. One of the things that I questioned at the time, and question even further now with so much sober time behind me, is if their belief that alcoholism is an ongoing disease and people never truly “heal” or completely “recover” is accurate for every addict.

I have no question in my mind that I was addicted to pornography and alcohol. They were my go-to vices when I needed to curb anxiety and stress for two decades. Despite negative consequences and a desire to stop, I didn’t until the law intervened. For me, being told I’d be thrown in jail (first on bail, then on probation) was the incentive I needed to quit.

I’ll admit, the cravings for porn were strong that first year and the cravings for alcohol were just as strong for around three years. Today though, unless I’m writing for this blog or giving an interview on a podcast, thoughts about using are not there. It’s just not a part of my everyday thinking anymore.

I think it’s healthier for me not to attend multiple meetings per week where discussions of alcohol and pornography are the focus. I appreciate the newcomers who are on the verge of falling back into that world of addiction, but I’ve met so many people with long-term sobriety who didn’t take the 12-Step route to know it can be another road to success.

I spent years (and continue to attend) in therapy, learning what happened in my life to contribute to the addictions starting. I have also spent years carefully crafting a new life where my routines are different, my motivations are different and I dutifully pay attention to my mental health.

So, am I still a recovering addict? According to most of the messaging, yes. I’ll never actually “recover”. Can one be an addict yet not actively participate in their addiction, nor having cravings? I’m not sure. Someone who played professional baseball from 1970 to 1984 is not still a baseball player. Someone who stopped smoking in 1997 is not still a smoker. Someone who spent their single life as a womanizer, but remains devoted in marriage is not still a philanderer. So why am I still an alcoholic and a porn addict?

I think the answer for most is, “It’s safer to consider my addiction as an active, living thing instead of a behavior of the past. I’m just one bad choice away from being back there.”

I understand that line of thinking, but aren’t I just one bad choice away from being a heroin user or starting a gambling addiction? We’re all just one bad choice away from ruining our lives, addict or not.

I believe addiction is a disease. It’s been proven by science. But science has also proven there are many diseases that people recover fully from. Is it possible addiction is one of those diseases?

I’m not completely there yet, but I have a feeling at some point, there is going to be an evolution in my mindset from “recovering” to “recovered” and I’m not worried about it being the slippery slope that returns me to the addictions. While I hopefully will always educate and inform about the dangers of addiction, I think the personal danger can dissipate to nearly nothing over time for many people.

Maybe this is just a matter of semantics. We love to label things in our society and we also tend to catastrophize for the worst-case scenario. When I was in rehab, the program was geared the same toward me, who needed only one trip each for alcohol and porn, as it was the person who had been 12 times and never been successful. I realistically probably didn’t need the same level of care that they did.

If constant self-monitoring and keeping your addiction top-of-mind, even after a decade, is what you need to stay sober, then please, fight the daily fight. I don’t want anything I say to dissuade you from continuing on with a program that works for you. I’ll never say that I wasn’t “really” addicted because I don’t need to white-knuckle it day-to-day anymore.

I also think it’s OK if you’re not struggling day-to-day. I don’t think it minimizes your battle and I don’t think you have to apologize for a recovery that the mainstream doesn’t acknowledge. I think it’s actually the place that most addicts strive to arrive at. I’m here, and I’m grateful.

Q&A Time: I’m A Porn Addict. Help.

QUESTION: I’m struggling with this addiction and I need help. What now?

ANSWER: That’s about as direct and to-the-point as you can get. It’s hard to get very specific because I don’t know if you’re looking once-a-week and feel bad about yourself or if this is a daily, multi-hour activity that is starting to stray into extreme or illegal territory. Either way there are some common pieces of advice I’d offer.

First is to find a professional to talk about this with. Depending on where you live there may be Certified Sex Addiction Therapists available. That would be your first choice. Here in Maine, where I live, that is an official licensure designation. If that’s the case where you live, you’ll want to find someone who has expertise with addictions. That can range from LCSWs (licensed clinical social worker) to LMFTs (licensed marriage and family therapist) to CACs (certified addiction counselors).

When you find that therapist, be 100% honest with them. You’re wasting everybody’s time and your money if you are anything less. The therapist will help guide you through you journey, but you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting and lying to them (or yourself) is going to largely render the therapeutic experience as worthless. Also understand you are probably going to bring up a lot more questions before you start with answers. This is all part of the process.

Next, find others who are also suffering from pornography addiction. Share your story with them and listen as they share their story with you. Recognizing you’re not alone, and coming to a sense of community with others like you will help you.

You can find these communities with 12-step groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. If these kinds of support groups are not local to your area, there are online meetings and hundreds of hours of recorded testimony available on YouTube of people talking about this exact subject. If you want to be more interactive, there are a handful of really good message boards out there. I’ve listed a few on the Resources page of this website and I’m sure a simple Google search may yield a few more I don’t know about. The point is, you are not alone in this struggle.

Finally, I’d urge you to learn as much about porn addiction, or addiction in general. There are literally thousands of books that you can find online and countless videos on YouTube that address addiction. I found learning about the scientific side of things helped me understand what I was experiencing at a deeper level.

As addicts, we tend to think that we’re a special snowflake and nobody could possibly understand what is happening with us. The reality is, in most cases, we’re just another statistic. Understanding those statistics, especially ones that had to do with success in recovery, was one of the key steps to me staying on the recovery path.

You must understand that your addiction will not go away overnight. Recovery is a long, hard road with triggers galore in the beginning. While I rarely feel triggers these days, even five years into recovery, they can still happen. You need to develop the tools to deal with them.

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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.

Q&A Time: What if I Refuse to Say I’m An Addict at a 12-Step Meeting?

QUESTION: I’m 19 years old. I feel like I’m too young to call myself a porn addict and I don’t want to go to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings because they make you say it there. I’m not sure 12-step groups are even for me. What should I do instead?

ANSWER:  I had an AA sponsor in the brief time I was in Palm Springs at rehab who I expressed some of the same qualms about labeling. I also had a problem with the notion that we were to define a higher power however we wanted, yet it was specifically Christian prayers said to open and close the meeting.

He gave me some great advice that I think many of the hardcore AA’ers would have got on his case for saying: “Take what you want, leave the rest at the door. As long as you’re not drinking, you’re in recovery.” I never thought I was powerless over alcohol (or pornography). I made very bad choices for a handful of reasons, but I was always the one steering the ship even if I wanted to pretend otherwise. I had the power to become an addict and I was the one who had the power to pull myself out of it. Claiming to be powerless was the opposite of what I needed to be doing.

I felt similar with Sex Addicts Anonymous. There is just too much putting words in my mouth and telling me how I feel in 12-step groups. I appreciate their structure, understanding many people need precisely that structure to succeed in recovery, but from the opening moments when I’m forced to identify as an addict publicly, there’s a dogma that – probably for the same reasons I’ve never been a fan of organized religion – I had trouble blindly subscribing to, addicted or not. It’s just not my personality. Maybe it’s not yours either.

So, I get where you’re coming from. That said, I’m guessing there is an untold amount of lies, cajoling, manipulating and deceit based in your consumption of pornography in the past. If you’re trying to turn over a new leaf, that’s fantastic, but if you’re going to skip Sex Addicts Anonymous – which may be the exact thing that will help you – you’re losing out on a lot over a word.

Despite the fact I stopped going to 12-step groups, I can see the value in them and think that everybody should try them to see if they are a fit for their recovery. If you think SAA is the answer and identifying yourself as an addict is what’s holding you back, no offense, but a label is a silly reason to not seek help.

Yes, it’s powerful the first time you say the phrase, “I am an addict.” Truth is, I still shudder a little when I think of it. It’s not a label anyone wants to wear.

Whether you have a bad habit, and addiction, a compulsion, an obsession or whatever else you want to call it is far secondary to getting help to fix the issue. By virtue of writing this question to me, you are indicating there is some kind of problem happening.

A big piece of me just wants to say, “Say the word addict, and see what they have to offer.” But if you can’t say the word addict, that’s fine. I don’t think it has anything to do with age, so I’d stop using that as an excuse and figure out the real reason behind your hesitancy to use the word “addict.”

If you can’t get yourself into an SAA room, I urge you to check out the Resources here. I also urge you to consider one-on-one counseling. It is the thing that I credit to ultimately bringing me into a successful recovery.

If SAA isn’t your thing, that’s OK and all hope is not lost. Just keep pursuing recovery. You can have it if you’re committed.


 

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.

Q&A Time: Doubts Over Partner’s Intention to Seek Help for Porn Addiction

QUESTION: I finally confronted my husband about his porn addition, and thankfully he didn’t deny everything. He says he wants help, but I think he just wants to stay together. What do I do?

ANSWER: Sorry you’re not one of the lucky ones. There are a percentage of men who, when confronted about their addiction, are suddenly relieved and ready to seek help. The one person who they didn’t want to find out – you – did and now they can do something about it. They want to get healthy and they want to be part of a solid team.

Then there are the guys who say they want to get help, but who simply don’t want to upset the apple cart. “OK, you found out, but I like our life and I’ll quit because I like our life.” These are the men who will attempt to quit, have the best intentions, and may even be successful for a while…but ultimately have no real plan to stop their behavior.

I saw a lot of these men as newcomers at Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings. They’d attend for a month or two and then disappear. I didn’t follow-up with any of them, but I had a feeling that they heard stories much worse than theirs, evaluated their situation and came to the conclusion that their biggest fault was that they got caught.

If he’s not looking to actually work on his problem and he’s just more concerned with maintaining the status quo, you’re going to find yourself exactly where you are right now at some point in the not-too-distant future.

He’s really just gaslighting you. Instead of denying there’s anything wrong, he’s going to admit there’s a problem and talk about how well is taking care of it. Now that his secret is out and confirmed, he can’t try to act like it’s not happening. For appearance’s sake, it makes more sense to him to say he has a problem and say he’s taking care of it.

What most addicts are looking for — and I know I was for years — is the path of least resistance. I can’t count the number of times that I have told people my motto for life was, “Don’t ask permission, just say you’re sorry after the fact.” It was easier for me to shrug and act charming having done the wrong thing than to do the right thing in the first place. If he’s not serious about his recovery, this is probably the head-space your partner is in right now.

He could be gaslighting his therapist, if he’s even showing up for the sessions. He could be just looking at the clock at his Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings, paying no attention to what the others are saying. He could also be sitting in an Arby’s parking lot enjoying curly fries and playing on his phone while you think he’s at the meeting.

This goes back to the fact that you may need to create boundaries, issue ultimatums and enforce penalties for not respecting your requests or ignoring your non-negotiables.

If your partner shows no interest in truly getting better, you may have to be the conduit for change.

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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.

The Day I Truly Entered Recovery from Pornography Addiction Was…

…the day I stopped waiting for other people’s advice or tricks to be the magic bullet solution. I’m now just over 4.5 years sober from porn. I would have told you then that M/O (masturbation/orgasm) was also an issue, but once the porn went away the M/O reduced by 98%. I was a porn addict.

I was in therapy for years long before I ever admitted to my porn addiction, trying to deal with my anxiety and feelings of always being out of place in the world. While it did come to light that I was bipolar, and that was important to contain, I just kept waiting for the piece of advice or the pill that would make my life fall into place and I’d become like all of the other people.

Through my 20+ years of porn addiction and alcoholism, there were certainly times where I was very weak and I know that I certainly did some damage to my pleasure centers by nuking my brain with dopamine, oxytocin and all of those others happy chemicals.

I am grateful for my therapist. She is an amazing guide through my psyche and has helped me connect so many threads that I finally understand the web of who I am, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but she couldn’t have done it without me…and for too long I was waiting for that.

I didn’t know about NoFap or online boards where most guys try to white-knuckle it, or theories like the whole Red Pill thing back when I was in early therapy. I think there are holes to all of those modalities, but if they work for you — actually work — then I think they’re fine because it’s YOU who is making them work.

I sat in a few months worth of Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings mostly listening to men complain about their sexless lives and realized that the only way you’re going to change is if you truly become committed to change.

My therapy moved in a bit of a cognitive behavioral direction and that started to make all the difference. How often do you ask yourself, “Why am I about to do this?” “What is motivating me here?” “Why am I having these feelings?” At one point in my recovery, I was probably doing this 25 times a day. Now, there is a level of muscle memory that has sunk in. Triggers are hardly a bother, for both porn and alcohol.

I’m proof that anybody can beat this thing, but I’m also proof that this isn’t like a broken leg where it just heals on its own, and it’s not like an illness that antibiotics will take care of. It’s not a mental condition that a few pills will contain and nobody is holding back the secret that will make you better.

It’s on you. You need to make the commitment to change. It’s not a desire, it’s not a hope. It’s a commitment. You get your ass up everyday to go to work. You visit your family on holidays. You pay your taxes. You know how to handle commitment. You just have to decide this is worth it and once you take control — well, the hard work has only just started — but at least you’ve taken that legit first step.

Note: I posted this on a message board about porn addiction, but thought it would also fit with what I do on this site. I need to remind people that while they may not end up a pornography addiction expert, they can all end up in recovery.

Lessons I’ve Learned While Helping Pornography Addicts & Their Loved Ones

For the last couple months, I’ve been offering a porn addict peer support service where I lend my expertise to people struggling with pornography addiction and spouses/partners who are living with a suspected or outed addict. I’ve learned a heck of a lot from dealing with these folks, which number around 8 or 9 at this point.

It’s evolved into a weigh station of sorts for people to figure out if they need to, or are willing to take the next steps, whatever that may be, to get help. I probably average 3-4 interactions per person and am proud to say most go on to official therapy after talking to me.

There are several things I’ve learned up to now on this little journey:

Porn Addiction Knows No Bounds: I have had a woman, a doctor and a former school teacher who are among the people I have worked with on the addict side of things and everybody’s story is so different. One of the reasons I wrote my book was to show that even successful white-collar guys with families can get hooked…which means anybody can. I want to repeat that for the doubters who are like, “Even a cross-eyed Eskimo with a skin condition or a Chinese millionaire who also gambles too much?” Yes, even them. Anybody. An-ee-bod-ee.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery is Brutal: I’ll often go to my own therapy sessions with a question or two for my therapist who is well-versed in this area with questions about how to handle the wives and girlfriends of sex addicts who have been hit with betrayal trauma like a ton of bricks. I’ve never lost a spouse or child, but I imagine the trauma is similar to what many of these women are feeling. I’m forever grateful my wife handled my situation much more smoothly than would have been expected.

We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves Only to Ourselves: I don’t know if it’s a 12-step saying or if it was just popular at one of my rehabs, but I’ve heard, “We are the stories we tell ourselves” too many times. I understand it means that we like to believe things that aren’t necessarily true about ourselves. But I think there’s also a level of belief that other people are buying our stories. Forget gaslighting your partner, I have worked with so many addicts and loved ones who continue to tell themselves stories that are simply not true. We may believe our own BS, but there are plenty of people out there nodding who let you live in your fantasy world but can see right through you.

Porn is a Concept, Not an Actual Thing: Porn is like: Anger, Cold, Bright, Proud, Alert – these are all words that mean basically the same thing to all of us, but not EXACTLY the same because they are concepts or ideas. One man’s pornographic film is not necessarily another’s. I can’t disagree with your conservative definition of porn, but I can’t disagree with the next person’s liberal definition. One of the most important things when I talk to people is to find out what their definition of pornography is before I start asking too many questions.

Porn Addiction is Rampant, Yet Invisible: Statistics suggest that 18% of all men in this world are addicted to pornography, with the largest group – 18-to-35 years old – at around 33%. I believe this and think those statistics are under-reported. I also have a feeling the rate of female addiction are far less underreported. We once lived in a world where you had to go to a store or a disgusting movie theater to get your porn needs met. Now, you can see porn as easily as you buy tickets, plan a trip, or send an e-mail. When the barriers for becoming a porn addict all drop, you’ve got loads of susceptible people that easily fall into the trap.

This Is Going to Get a Lot Worse Before It Gets Better: I remember first hearing about heroin in middle school. It was one of those drugs so far out of the mainstream, like PCP, that it seemed like it was almost a myth. Now, 30 years later, it’s probably more difficult to find cocaine or speed on the street than heroin. Why? Because we let it happen. I recall learning of the dangers of a handful of drugs in school, but never learning about heroin. It must have not seemed important to the curriculum. I don’t know what they’re doing about it now, but they failed a generation or two. That same mistake can’t be made with porn.

I talk to people in such pain over this, wracked with guilt, shame and embarrassment who feel like they have nowhere to turn. Resources for porn addiction are few and far between. In the state of Maine, there are 5 meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous statewide per week. There are over 50 per day for Alcoholics Anonymous.

In Maine, there is no designation for a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT). You can certainly go take a course on it, but the State doesn’t seem to want to recognize it as an area for professional certification among therapists. This means that an addict largely has to cross their fingers that a therapist who lists “sexual issues” in their areas of expertise aren’t simply trawling for clients and that they know their stuff.

Unfortunately, Maine is far more typical than atypical. We are horribly behind the times here, but like most places, there’s a tendency for the herd to gather, not want to talk about uncomfortable things and shun those who do. The herd will eventually talk about these things, but as the opiate crisis shows, they’re often decades too late. The herd is reactive, not proactive.

I’m trying to do what I can, talking about this problem with anybody who will listen. I love to do podcasts with people who have thousands of listeners, but I’ll do them with podcasts that have dozens. Once people learn they won’t become, nor will be perceived as a porn addict for simply having a conversation, maybe we’ll start making strides.

One day, I hope to step away from my daily job of ghostwriting to focus on porn addiction education full-time, but that’s about 20 clients away. It’s OK, I’ll get there someday.

If I can give you one call-to-action it’s that whether an addict, loved one of an addict, or someone who just stumbled upon this article, please don’t carry fear or embarrassment when it comes to talking about the scourge of pornography addiction. We need to normalize the conversation in society before anybody is going to do anything about it.

And of course, if you’re interested in my peer support services, click HERE.

What did it feel like to be a porn addict?

As I was reconfiguring my home page yesterday, feeling it was time to freshen things up by giving the book promotion a less prominent place, while still feeding my ego by listing all of the podcasts and radio shows I’ve done, I recognized that unlike Playboy magazine, people actually do come here for the articles and one I’ve never written about is what it felt like to be a pornography addict. Yes, that run-on sentence was 71 words.

It was shameful and lonely.

During most of my recovery, I’ve operated under the idea that I got some very mixed messages about sex and sexuality when I was a kid, and while that’s true, all of the messages were received in a negative way. Whether it was the conservative Catholic attitude of my parents or the inappropriate actions of my caregiver, I was left feeling like sexuality was a bad thing at about the age of 5.

Knowing that, on the surface it seems odd that I would have had such a visceral positive reaction to seeing pornography for the first time as a 10-year-old. You’d almost think I should recoil in disgust. Instead, for the first time, I found a “safe” outlet for my sexuality and although it would be many years before I regularly had my hands on the stuff, but I was an addict the first time I saw it.

Once I had the resources and ability to regularly consume porn, I knew it was an activity that you don’t talk about, pretend you’ve never heard of it, and talk down about the people who do use it or treat it all as a big joke. In essence, you’re denying who you really are.

Why? Because of the shame. Because you desperately don’t want to feel the humiliation or distress that comes from being judged not just by others, but by yourself. You know you’re doing something society has deemed as abnormal and wrong that’s rotting your soul, but you can’t stop. You can’t stop because you’re weak and that weakness is another reason to be ashamed.

It’s also a solitary addiction. My alcoholism was much more of a social addiction. It’s OK to drink. It’s even OK to drink too much from time to time. How many stories in this world have started with, “There was this one time that I was totally wasted…” I think a real argument can be made that my alcoholism was more critical for a longer time than the porn. I don’t feel nearly the shame about that. Maybe I should, or maybe the porn has vacuumed it all up, but I think it’s about how society views alcohol vs. porn.

While the very end result of indulging a porn addiction, a three-second orgasm, obviously feels good, there is nothing to enjoy about being a pornography addict. It’s a search for something that you can connect with because you can’t connect in usual ways to the outside world. It’s a search for intimacy and it’s a way to just block out all of those things that have happened to you that were out of your control when you were younger. It’s a lonely, lonely path.

I think one of the biggest reasons for writing my book, maintaining this website and offering advisement/support is simply because I wish somebody would have told me, “You’re not a freak. You’re not a bad person. You’re not the only one. It’s OK, you’re just ill and need to deal with some painful things and there are people who will help you in a safe, non-judgmental environment out there. It’s going to be OK.”

These days, I feel like a pornography addiction expert. I can quote stats all day long, have met dozens of people in real life and hundreds online with the issue, I read about it like there’s no tomorrow and of course, what porn addict expert isn’t complete without his own tale. But just because I may be a pornography addiction expert doesn’t mean I don’t still think about that dark place I was many years before I knew porn addiction was a thing or anybody else was dealing with the same thing.

You don’t have to live with the shame and the isolation of pornography addiction. Yes, it’s going to take society a long time to come around to treating pornography as an addiction, but you can do the research on alcohol and see how they treated alcoholics in the early 1900s. You’d rather be a porn addict now than an alcoholic then. It may not be in our lifetime, but society will come around. But you can’t wait for that.

You’re OK, and you can be much better. You’re not alone. Just reach out for help.