Six Years After Starting Recovery, I Make One of My Biggest Advances Toward Normalcy

I did something I’m actually going to brag about, that I never would have thought I would have done in a million years, but it felt like such a step forward, I’ve been meaning to come here and write about it to show people just how far you move away from mistakes you made and how you don’t need to hide from who you are, no matter what has happened.

As many of you know, my uncle died about a week ago. He was one of those guys who was the glue in any group he was a part of, be it our family, his friends or his professional life. I won’t say the world revolved around him, but if his life was the show Seinfeld, he was the Jerry Seinfeld upon which everything was held together.

He was also an administrator in the school district I attended. Since I’m 43 and he died at 63, most of the teachers I had while he served are still alive and I knew many would attend his wake. I also know he was one of those guys who knew everybody and could theoretically foresee anybody walking through the doors of the funeral parlor, so when it came to his wake I was very nervous.

The people I have around me in life have pretty much all uniformly moved on from my arrest six years and the attention it drew. They’ve seen the new guy I’ve evolved into and life is pretty routine these days. For the first time since my arrest in early 2014, I was looking at seeing people I hadn’t seen since before that all went down.

I’ll be honest with everyone. I took an Ativan. It doesn’t escape me that 10 years ago, I would have had a couple drinks before going to something like this. I took a bunch of Ativan immediately after I was arrested and in the week leading up to going to jail. I also took it for about a month last year when I was going through debilitating anxiety attacks. I have been very cognizant to not take any more than I need. I took one about 30 minutes before leaving and haven’t needed another. I expressed hesitation to my wife, but as she said, “The medicine specifically exists to help you in a moment like this.”

At first I was sheepish. I saw my third-grade teacher, a cousin who had given me the cold shoulder for a while and a guy who was a freelancer at the magazine I owned. They were all friendly exchanges.

I don’t know why I chose them, but about an hour into things, my junior high school principal, who’s got to be 80, give or take (he was my mother’s 9th grade math teacher…and she’s 71) and his wife, who I worked with at the local newspaper for about five years before she retired approached me to express their condolences.

When they asked what I was up to, I explained that I ghostwrite books for people who are usually CEOs, working on self-help programs or simply want an autobiography. And then it hit me. I’m proud of my work with porn addiction. I’m not ashamed of it. It was nothing I set out to do, but it’s a problem and if my mission is to educate the world, I should let the world know what I’m doing.

“If you remember all that stuff that happened to me six years ago, I got my head on straight and now I write books about pornography addiction and try to help people and their families who are struggling with it,” I told them. “There was nothing for me when I wasn’t doing well, so I thought maybe I could make things better for other people. It’s a huge problem out there.”

They told me that they knew I did one book but were glad to hear I just released a second one. They said it seems like pornography is everywhere these days and they were proud of me. Then they each gave me a hug.

In my wildest dreams, since first meeting the man 31 years ago, I never thought that I’d hug my junior high school principal. I also don’t remember him being that short. I’ve grown.

Telling them what I do now was such a feeling of relief and moment of empowerment. I went on to tell probably four more people in the last two hours. I didn’t make it about me, I didn’t quote stats or do my podcast-style preaching. I just mentioned in matter-of-factly. The results were positive across the board.

Six years ago, when this all went down and it was headline news, I was scared to death. I barely left the house. If I went to a restaurant, it was 30 miles away. Over time, I’ve become comfortable being out in public locally and have been surprised just how few interactions I’ve had with people from my former life. I think that my uncle’s wake may have been a huge final step toward whatever level I end up at in being comfortable owning what I did and being open with what I do now, no matter who I’m talking to or where I am.

The last step is going to be the people who I work with. It never comes up, but most of them don’t know my real name. I intentionally hide it from them whenever possible, and when it has to be revealed for payment or tax purposes, I tell them I professionally just go by my first and middle name.

Anyway, my message is really just if you have something that you don’t think you can face, or something you feel shame an embarrassment about, try being open about it. Try with someone who you think will be safe. I mean, realistically, unless my mother dies very soon, I don’t think I’ll ever see my junior high school principal or his wife again. They were safe people, and it felt damn good. Damn good.

Sorry, But There Was No Thrill In My Addiction

I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great resource for pornography addiction information. However, much like statistics that peg the porn industry worth anywhere between $2 billion and $200 billion (just a slight discrepancy there), I’m starting to bump into information provided from professionals that I think is just flat-out wrong.

This morning, I was scrolling through the feed and there was a short video from an Australian health professional. The video’s thesis was that “the thrill” that comes with looking at porn and masturbating makes the addiction even worse.

The thrill?

At first I thought it may be an Australian colloquialism for the physical pleasure that comes with an orgasm, but that’s not it. This person believes that there is a genuine thrill associated with succumbing to the addiction on a regular basis. Aside from the slight rush of adrenaline that came with porn viewing when I was afraid of getting caught by my parents more than 25 years ago, I don’t recall watching porn ever being a fun, exciting experience. It was a necessity. Despite trying to stimulate my dopamine receptors, there wasn’t a lot of pleasure in it.

The thrill?

Try the shame.

I didn’t want anybody to know about my addiction and in all truth, I never really faced up to my addiction or called it such while I was locked in the battle between my brain and the computer screen. There was nothing thrilling about that. It made me feel bad. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with anything. I felt like I had a dirty little secret.

Here’s my guess: This person has probably never been addicted to anything. I’ve met plenty of ex-alcoholics and ex-drug users at the rehabs I’ve been to who work in the field, but there was also plenty of people who weren’t. Usually these people love to tell you they’re in recovery and this person didn’t do that in the video.

I’m guessing they associates caving to your addiction, even though you don’t want to, as something “naughty.” There’s a big chasm between naughty and shameful. Having a piece of cake at the restaurant with dinner when you’re on a diet is naughty. Going home and binging on the cake in the fridge because you can’t stop yourself is shameful. Promising yourself you’d only lose $100 when you visit the casino, but you lose $120 is naughty. Losing $1,000 and only stopping because you’re broke is shameful. Sneaking a 5-second peek of a pornographic website at work or when other people are in the room is naughty. Waiting for everybody to go to sleep because you NEED hours to look at porn is shameful.

I know if this person was my therapist, we would not click. I also know that I would leave this person after probably only one or two sessions. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who stick with their therapists because they feel like it’s a relationship where the client doesn’t have the control. A therapist you can’t work well with is not a therapist worth keeping.

I’m sure this person probably gets through to some of their clients and I’m sure they’ve helped a lot of people, but hearing that there was a thrill to my addiction made me shake my head.

That’s not a thrill. That’s shame.

I Almost Pulled My First Book Off Amazon Out of Shame This Morning

We had a beastly nor’easter here two nights ago and while we didn’t lose power, our satellite TV was still pixilated last night, meaning I couldn’t embrace my usual Thursday night flip-back-and-forth between Thursday Night Football and Everybody Loves Raymond.

A month or so ago, I read the last few chapters of my first book. It had been well over a year since I cracked it open. I wanted to add a new chapter to the end of the book before I reintroduced it to Amazon. I forgot that those were the chapters that briefly detailed the beginning of recovery, so they generally have a positive tone.

With the lack of consistent TV last night, I figured I’d read the rest of the book again. I have a lot of podcast interviews coming up in support of the next book, so reviewing my history seemed like something that would at least fill the time in my Raymond-less life.

It started OK because the first chunk of the book is about why I wrote it and how I get better in the end. My former publisher told me that we should establish upfront that I wrote the book for the right reasons and was on the path to turning my life around when I was working on it. The theory was that if we immediately got into the bad stuff, people might be turned off. I think that makes a lot of sense.

Maybe I’ve started to block, or forget, some of the details of my life in the last year before the police showed up, but for the first time ever in reading my story, I felt a pit-of-my-stomach shame and embarrassment I’d never felt before. I think just a day or two ago I wrote that I felt ashamed of what I did, but I’m not ashamed of myself. Scratch that.

I really can’t believe what honesty and detail I put into the book. It’s all there for people to see: the unbearable boss I became, the narcissistic local celebrity, the horrible father and husband and worst of all, perpetrator of a disgusting crime. It really blew my mind that I was willing to release it to the general public. It’s not graphic by any means, but it’s brutally honest.

I recall the bullet points of what happened and recount them for the podcast and radio interviews I do, but this was a level of detail that didn’t stay top-of-mind. It was difficult to read.

I wrote the book as a cathartic release in jail, found it even more therapeutic when I edited it down from 200,000 to 90,000 words, and felt like I put a lot of those demons to bed when I finally read the finished version in book form. I think I got a glimpse of those demons last night through different eyes.

As I was trying to fall asleep, it dawned on me that I didn’t want anybody reading it because I didn’t want anybody to know that stuff about me. It’s not who I was for most of my life and it’s not who I am now. Sure, I think a lot of people found me difficult to deal with through a lot of my life and I did have my addictions, but they were nothing like they became in that last year before the arrest.

I figured it would be easy enough to get rid of the book. I just had to pull it off of Amazon since that’s the only place currently selling it. Problem solved. I drifted off to sleep and had a dream I can’t recall.

My son has a nasty cold, so I don’t need to rush around in the morning to get him ready for school. This means I can sleep in a bit and check my phone from the comfort of my bed in the morning. I was reminded of killing the book when I came to check the overnight stats of this blog.

It dawned on me while I could ax the version of the book currently for sale on Amazon, I can’t eliminate the first version. It sold almost 1,000 copies, include around 250 into libraries across the country (and for some random reason, New Zealand). I can’t recall those copies. I also remembered the people who wrote to me after reading the book thanking me for being brutally honest; not just addicts, but their loved ones and members of the healthcare community.

After hesitating, I decided I’ll leave it out there. I guess it’s easy enough to find a copy at this point that eliminating it is pointless and, if I want to spin it for good, despite being a very shameful experience reading it last night, the book might still help people and that was the reason I wrote it.

I need to just own that it’s out there. I own what I did, why it was wrong and how I became that way. I’m a writer. Is it so strange there is a written record? It’s what I do.

In many podcasts I’ve done where the host has read the book, they often say I’m brave for coming forth with my story. I never fully understood that sentiment. I think today, I get it. I feel an unease, but a bravery for leaving it online.

I’m not asking you to buy it, but for strict transparency’s sake, if you’re interested in seeing the book, click here for the soft cover and here for the Kindle. I think one of those options leads you to be able to read the first few pages. I can’t run away from it, so I may as well embrace it. I’m probably done reading it, though.

Q&A Time: Is it OK to Watch Porn if I Don’t Become an Addict?

QUESTION: I listened to a couple of your podcasts. Good stuff. I heard you say on two different shows that you think it’s OK for people to watch porn because most don’t become addicts. Do you really believe that?

ANSWER: If those were my words, or what you inferred, it came out a little wrong. What I believe is that people can look at pornography without becoming addicts, not that I think they should look at porn.

From a strictly scientific standpoint, just about anything can become a bad habit or an addiction. For me, it was alcohol and porn. But I also can enjoy things that others find troubling, like gambling, eating or video games. Based on statistics available, far more people are able to take part in these activities and not develop a problem than those who do. That’s moral-free math talking. So, yes, I believe that somebody can look at pornography and not become addicted.

That said, do I think people should look at pornography? No. While there are some who preach its benefits in their relationship or simply appreciate the release it provides without becoming problematic, at its core, it’s people selling their bodies. I don’t think that’s a healthy thing on either side of the transaction. The only porn that exists is porn that objectifies people. Is it OK if the person being depicted understands this? I still don’t think so.

I’ve always found it crazy that many pharmacies sell cigarettes. It seems completely counterintuitive to their mission statement, unless it’s “make money at all costs.” Selling people an instrument to give them emphysema only to turn around and sell them inhalers is a brilliant business model, but is it ethical? CVS finally recognized this a couple of years ago and pulled all cigarettes from their stores.

I see CVS ending this hypocrisy along the same lines as porn stars, producers or cam models saying that since they are doing it willingly, it’s OK. It’s nice to know that nobody has a gun to your head and you’re not being trafficked, but it’s still objectification and you don’t know whose hands your product is falling into. They say if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Where do you fall in this equation, Ms. or Mr. Porn Star?

I don’t specifically tell people not to look at porn mostly because of my philosophical leanings. I’m very much a libertarian and don’t want people telling me what I should or shouldn’t do with my life. If I have this belief, it’s hypocritical to tell people what to do. I’d rather provide them with data and let them make their own decision.

I also don’t tell people not to look at porn because I think it comes off as shaming and that’s not a good way to encourage healthy behavior. It’s manipulative. Making somebody feel worse about doing something that they likely already know is not good for them doesn’t magically make them stop. It just makes their self-loathing they already feel even worse. I don’t want to be the person to contribute to that.

Maybe I should change my answer to: “I can’t think of a reason someone MUST look at porn, but of those who do, many don’t end up addicted.”

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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: How do you live with yourself?

QUESTION: How do you live with yourself with what you did? How do you look at yourself in the mirror and who made you the voice of every porn addict out there?

ANSWER: Your autographed 8X10 is in the mail.

Two questions in two days…wow. For anybody who wonders why I’m posting this question, you should have read the rest of the email this came from. I believe it was from somebody who discovered me during my ill-fated sojourn onto Facebook last week. Yeah, the email was full of bile, but when you strip it away, as I have, I think those are actually legit, rational questions.

I don’t think those questions are really the ones that person wants answered. I doubt they even wanted answers. They just wanted me to know they thought I was a bad person. At this point, all I can say is, “Noted.”

If I read between the lines, I think this person is first asking why I don’t spend every waking minute groveling and repenting. I think the follow-up question is about why I don’t just disappear into the darkness.

I am absolutely embarrassed and ashamed of what I did. The fact that I was able to let my mental health (and rest of my life) slip to a point that I encouraged women to perform sexual acts on their webcam is, in a word, gross. The fact I didn’t have the sense to somehow make sure no female under 18 ended up on cam is negligent at best and sinister at worst.

I don’t think that I’ll ever not feel embarrassment and shame for what I did. I don’t know if it had a lasting negative effect on that girl, or any of the other women I got involved. I do know it had a negative effect on my family and they never asked for that.

But here’s the thing, I’m not a disciple of Brene Brown, the shame guru. Perhaps this is narcissistic or means I’m denial, but while I did an embarrassing and shameful thing, I don’t think that makes me a person who has to define himself as ashamed or embarrassed. I did a horrible thing, but I haven’t let it affect my self-worth. I actually feel better about myself now, 5½ years into recovery than I ever have. There’s no defense for what I did, but I’m not ashamed of who I am. Those are two different things.

I think that there is a segment of the populace who, when they first hear my story, or are reintroduced to me for the first time since my arrest in 2014, they are shocked that I’m not on my hands and knees, begging for forgiveness from them and the world in general.

I went through that period. You just weren’t there. I believe at some point, you have to stand up, dust yourself off, and move on because, really, what else can you do? I think it’s like a lot of traumas that way. You deal with it and you move on or you let it totally consume you. I’ve seen people who get consumed and I didn’t want to be like that.

I had a deep emotional reaction to what I did that was on display for all early on. The amount of times I cried to my wife, or in therapy, were plentiful. If you need a show from me to believe that I will forever be deeply, deeply aware of what happened and what it means, the show’s over.

Finally, I’ve never claimed to be the voice of all porn addicts. Many never understand they are addicted. Even more never confront it or try to do anything about it. Very few have the law involved as I did. I’m critical of some of the online communities of men based on their methodology in trying to tackle the issue. I’m not trying to be anybody’s voice but my own.

I tell my story because I didn’t hear anybody’s story when I was in the same situation. There were few resources when I was going through this. I felt completely alone. I hope that telling my story makes a few other people feel less alone. I might not only help some addicts, but help prevent some victims this way.

I also want to raise the idea with people who don’t think of it, or don’t believe it, that porn addiction is a real thing and can have real consequences. If they can walk away understanding it’s not a moral failure, but an illness, that’s one more person in the world who might move us toward a place we can accept a national dialogue on the matter.

Finally, I tell my story because I don’t think I’m the stereotype people conjure when they think of a porn addict. If I can break the mold, and explain there is no “typical” addict, perhaps we can dump the stigma that a porn addict is a specific kind of a person.

I’m not trying to win fans, I’m just trying to make the best of what was a bad situation. I understand most people slink away and don’t want to talk about it. That’s fine, it’s just not the cloth from which I was cut. Much like my advice if you stumble across a TV show you don’t like, just turn me off if I bother you that much.

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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.