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’m Still Failing at Empathy

I feel like a rotten person for admitting this, but despite my best efforts there are still people who I feel incredibly awkward around: elderly people over 90, people with developmental disabilities, police officers and just about any kid except my own. There is nobody I feel more awkward around though than my mother when she’s crying.

It’s exceedingly rare that she cries. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen it is when she’s at funerals or mourning afterward. Unfortunately, she got some horrible news about my uncle, her younger brother, yesterday about his ongoing battle with cancer.

Despite a year where it looked like immunotherapy treatment was appearing to work, in the last two months the tumor on his liver has grown rapidly. They are going to try an aggressive form of chemotherapy, but the doctor said if he doesn’t respond well, it’s going to be time to have some palliative care discussions.

Without getting into too much history, my uncle is eight years younger than my mother. Their parents weren’t the warmest or most attentive people. She missed out on a lot of typical middle and high school activities because she was required to babysit him. This created a bond that has always seemed almost more like mother and son rather than brother and sister to some of us in the family. In a lot of ways, she was his first kid and they have been immensely close ever since.

When it comes to death and funerals, my involuntary reaction is to mentally and emotionally detach. I’ve probably been to 20 wakes/funerals in my life and I recall crying at one, for one of my best friends when he was 18 and I was 21. I can almost always go look at the body and feel nothing. When people say, “He looks peaceful” or “She’s not suffering now,” I get the urge to say, “He isn’t peaceful. He isn’t anything” or “Of course she’s not suffering, but she’s also not feeling good. She isn’t feeling anything.” This is why I sit toward the back and only speak when spoken to at those things.

Detachment happens when I feel incredibly awkward and/or can sense I’m about to feel incredibly sad. Funerals and wakes are an intersection of both emotions.

Detachment turns off my empathy. It turns off all of my emotions, but the appropriate one in most situations I find myself detaching is empathy.

I perfected the art of detaching as a young kid. I think it was from when my babysitter would put me in a dark room, and I didn’t know how long I’d be there. I learned to trick my mind into seeing two hours as 15 minutes, or more accurately, suspending the typical sensation of time elapsing in my head.

It’s not all bad. I can sit at the DMV, or any waiting room, for an hour and barely notice it. Detachment is what made driving 9,000 miles this past August seem like a breeze and when I was in jail in early 2016, detachment let the days bleed into one another until I somewhat lost all sense of normal time elapsing.

The problem with detachment, and it’s a problem I’ve been trying to address throughout my recovery, is that it’s lead to a lifelong lack of empathy. When I hear or see my mother crying, it’s easier – and more natural for me – to shut down than to process it.

I think detachment and lack of empathy go hand-in-hand. I also think that I have empathy deep down, but I know that when I start to let it out, it doesn’t stop. I’m not mean to really old people or developmentally disabled people. They just make me so, so sad. I don’t like watching movies designed to make me cry either. And, in my very grueling therapy appointments that came early in recovery, I had to learn to schedule them at the end of the day because I’d be an empathetic wreck thinking about all the people I hurt. I didn’t want that to happen early in the day because then it was a lost day.

Sympathy I can do. Empathy I still have trouble with. For those who don’t know the difference, I described it this way in rehab once and the counselor said they were going to adapt it because it’s the bluntest they’d ever heard:

Sympathy = That sucks for you
Empathy = Sucks to be you

It’s a subtle difference, but with empathy, you’re putting yourself in a person’s spot and understanding how they feel. It’s relating to another’s emotions. With sympathy, it’s a sterile recognition of what the person is going through.

I’m not an idiot. I can recognize my mother is very sad by the fact she was crying on the phone and will probably be experiencing more of that in the future as this ordeal with my uncle continues. But I also either can’t, or don’t want to relate. I know that I should. I know that’s the right thing to do, but despite my recovery going smoother than most people’s, this is still a giant hurdle. I love my mother and I love my uncle. I don’t know what to say to either of them that is both genuine and won’t leave me a complete mess. In the past, my way of handling it is to just not say much of anything or pretend like it’s not happening.

I know what the comments are likely going to say on this post because I’m telling myself the same things: Suck it up, you’ve got to be there for them. Sometimes life is uncomfortable and avoiding it doesn’t help anyone. What would you want your child to do in the same situation?

I get it, I really do. And to give myself a tiny bit of credit, I’m better at this kind of stuff than I was before recovery. Several people, including my mother, have made mention I’m an overall better human, but that’s easy on most days. The dark days ahead are going to be challenging.

I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me at the beginning of recovery that the toughest part was going to be emotionally connecting and allowing myself to feel empathy for others. Now, it seems obvious it was going to be the toughest part. Hopefully I can learn to better deal with it.

Watching My First Connection in Recovery Almost Die in Front of Me

Note: This may be a story worth a trigger warning. It may also be exactly what you need to hear, so viewer discretion advised.

Bob was the best counselor I had at either of my rehabs. He wasn’t medically trained or have 15 groups of letters after his name, but he had risen to run the two small properties in Palm Springs (really just former adjacent motels probably used in the Hollywood heyday of Palm Springs) and he was tasked as my caseworker.

Since they were understaffed, Bob was most people’s caseworker. I started my time at the main property, where about 20 patients lived. That property was overseen by Jackson, who had once been a patient at the rehab. For some reason, Jackson went to rehab 14 times and it never clicked until the 15th time. Now, he was a model of clean living. This 26-year-old didn’t have much of an active role in running the rehab except as the overnight intake person, should one be needed.

Once you completed 30 days, if you were staying, you were moved to the adjacent property, where only about 8-10 people lived at any given time. These people were the “interns” who just did the occasional bed checks and kept attendance at the four daily group sessions, although they only had to attend three. Sometimes you’d also be asked to do additional tasks, like make breakfast, or bring a patient to the nearby “real” hospital if they had a minor injury. I once took a guy for a nasty spider bite. Bob lived at this property, although he kept to himself in his room.

Meet Bob

Bob was around 60 years old. Born in Iowa, he moved to Chicago as a young man and become either an investment banker or high-end stockbroker. He ended up married, had a couple of sons and a brutal, brutal alcohol problem in his late 30s/early 40s. That problem only came under control when he admitted to himself that he was a homosexual. This epiphany tore his family apart and sent him packing to Palm Springs, which at the time (and still to some degree) was a safe place for homosexuals to live their lives openly compared to other places in the U.S. at the time.

Bob continued working in the financial sector for many years. After giving it several years, he tried to rebuild the bridges with his sons, but it was a very rocky road. Bob settled into a steady relationship with a man, but after several years, the man left. With his relationship with his kids still in tatters, Bob was introduced to meth.

While he didn’t have the length of time being a meth addict he did with alcohol, it floored him once again and he sought professional help. Something clicked while he was there, and he decided he’d get certified as an addiction therapist. Along the way, he met another man in recovery who he started a relationship with, and they decided that they’d open a sober house, which was an aftercare facility for addicts.

This went fine for a couple of years, but inevitably, the duo broke up. His partner kept the house and he took a job with the rehab I attended. A friend he met in recovery, Amy, was the day intake person and also led one of the group sessions. They’d just lost their lead and were looking for another. Bob took the job. I arrived about eight months later.

Forming a Bond

Bob saw me almost immediately when I arrived and welcomed me graciously. I attended a couple of his group sessions before we had our first real one-on-one where he told me parts of the story I just explained. Others helped fill in the gaps along the way.

I had told myself that I wouldn’t tell anybody about the charges I had unless they needed to know about them. Probably 97% of the people at the rehab never had any idea that less than two weeks before I got there, I was arrested for possession of underage pornography.

Bob made it clear quickly that he knew I did, but also shared he’d known several men who had the same issue and what happened to them, ranging from nothing to 10 years in prison. We didn’t dwell on this part of my story because he didn’t have the training there. We talked a lot about my drinking, but mostly we just talked.

He had red hair and striking sea green eyes that looked they could see through you, so you shouldn’t bother telling a lie. I opened up to him about my drinking more than any other person I ever had to that point and as a former alcoholic with around 10 years of sobriety, he could relate. I felt a connection with him as a fellow addict that I’d never made with anybody in my professional or personal lives.

When I made it to the smaller property after 30 days, I thought we’d hang out a little more, but Bob kept to himself in his room. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get that “down time” chance to bond, but it was what it was.

The first time I was ever asked to lead one of the groups was when Amy had to intake a client, so she couldn’t lead the late morning group and Bob had called in ill that morning. Aside from Jackson, another office worker and a maintenance manager, that was it for the staff. They should have had at least two more counselors and another staff person there.

After a few days of calling out sick, and not seeing Bob at the adjacent property, Amy pulled me aside and asked if I’d take over the late morning group as a permanent thing. The reality is, anybody can do the job of a group therapy counselor. You just have to be able to keep the ball rolling and get people to talk. My training as a reporter was perfect. When I asked why she wanted to do this permanently (and if it would knock anything off my bill since I was now functioning as a part-time employee) she told me that Bob relapsed and had been asked to leave after a confrontation with the owner of rehab who also owned and operated two other facilities in Florida and further north in California.

Never Saw It Coming

Bob’s relapse really hit me and a few other people who had been there for a while hard. I was probably 40-45 days into my 70-day stay at that point. If he could relapse, it was clear anybody could. A lot of us spent the next few days comparing notes and agreeing he’d had a difficult road in life, but for someone who preached asking for help, he couldn’t follow his own advice.

A new manager named Autumn was hired within a couple of days. She was young, probably in her late 20s and asked me to continue running the late morning group. I liked her and we developed a relationship that was more like co-workers than treatment provider-patient. When Bob left, so did my one-on-one sessions. They closest thing I had to that with Autumn was in the almost daily patient rundown when I’d report was happening in my group and around the properties when she wasn’t there.

At around probably my 62nd or 63rd day, Amy approached me early one morning.

“I knew how much Bob meant to you and we have to help him,” she said in a whisper.

I asked her to explain what she was talking about and she launched into a story of how after Bob left the adjacent property, he went to live with his sponsor. After four or five days of heavy drinking and refusing to go to meetings, his sponsor kicked him out in fear of his own safety and sobriety.

She said Bob then went to live with a friend, but that person kicked him out too after a couple of days. Amy had seen him the morning before when he called to get his last check and she agreed to meet him in a Walgreen’s parking lot. He revealed that he had been living out of his car, spending his days in the park drinking and sleeping in his car in various parking lots, drinking, at night.

Amy worked the phones calling nearby detox and rehab centers and was able to pull some strings to get Bob into one of those facilities if he agreed to go. She finally was able to convince him to go to detox and offered to pay for a night at the Motel 6 down the road so nothing would happen to him.

The problem was that the van that was going to pick Bob up and bring him to the detox center about 20 miles away was not going to pick him up until 4 p.m. and he had to be out of the hotel by noon. She had to stay at the facility, but she said that Jackson had secretly agreed to pick him up at the hotel.

Now, understand that bringing someone from the outside who was using – which describes Bob accurately at the time – was the worst thing you could. Nobody from the outside was let in without prior approval, and certainly not someone with a problem. Jackson couldn’t hide Bob in his room for 5 or 6 hours to wait for the van since it was the main property. Amy asked if I could let him stay in my room next door since nobody monitored that property closely. I was a little hesitant, but she said she’d thought he’d just sleep all day and I could just hang out in the room watching TV or by the pool while he slept.

About an hour later, Jackson and I headed to Motel 6.

Addiction is Real

Jackson had known Bob much longer than me and said he had no idea what we’d encounter at the hotel. I think even he was shocked when Bob opened the door.

I’ve seen peoples in the throes of alcoholic benders, but this was beyond what I’ve ever seen. Bob had been drinking around the clock for who knows how many weeks at that point. He’d lost about 15-20 pounds since I last saw him and his fair complexion was completely sunburned from those days in the park.

He limply motioned to us to come into the room. We entered to a mess of empty Listerine bottles. He took a half-full one from the dresser and downed its contents.

“Do you know why I have so much Listerine here?” he slurred at me.

“Because of the alcohol?” I asked, knowing that was the answer.

“Of course, but here’s the secret. You can’t go to a bar or buy liquor after 1 a.m. But you can go to a 7-11 and get Listerine in the middle of the night and it’s 80 proof,” he said. This was one of those things you only learn through the rehab experience.

Bob immediately turned into a sad, regretful drunk.

“Look at me. Look what I’ve become. You guys are doing great and look at me,” he said.

We tried to let him know he’d picked us up when he was down, and this was our turn. After assuring him we weren’t judging him and everything would be OK, we told him that he’d be coming to my room to wait for the van to bring him to detox. I gathered his stuff while Jackson let him polish off another half-full bottle of Listerine by the nightstand, then helped him outside and into the back seat of the car.

As we drove the two miles back to the rehab facility, Bob kept talking down about himself and saying that we were pieces of shit when he met us but that we’d turned it around and wondering why couldn’t he do the same thing.

In the middle of one of his pity-party sentences, he stopped talking and simply fell to the side.

“Did he pass out?” asked Jackson?

I turned around and saw him face down on the side seat with a disgusting, thick liquid coming out. As I tried to lift his head, we pulled into the small parking lot next to my facility. I ran and opened the gate while Jackson worked on getting Bob to sit up. He just kept slumping backward into whatever was in that puddle.

“He just needs to sleep it off in your room,” Jackson said. “We may have to carry him.”

As we pulled him toward us from him slumped position again he vomited what was clearly Listerine, blood and who knows what else onto himself and Jackson’s backseat.

“Dude, that’s blood, he needs to go the hospital,” I said.

At that moment, Amy called from next door.

“We’re bringing him to the hospital,” I said. “He’s puking all kinds of whatever including blood.”

“But he’s going to lose his chance at detox and rehab,” she said.

“Amy, we need to take him. I’ve never seen this come out of somebody before,” I said.

Jackson grabbed my phone.

“Amy, he’s seriously in trouble. We’re going to the hospital.”

He hung the phone up and gave it back to me. I ran to the other side of the car and jumped into the passenger’s seat.

Thankfully, the hospital was only about three blocks away. We pulled into the emergency room entrance and I ran in, telling the person at the desk we needed a gurney and a couple people to help lift this guy who was OD’ing onto a stretcher.

They were out there within 10 seconds, pulling Bob out of the car and putting him on the gurney. He’s stopped vomiting, but as he lay back on the gurney, I saw his eyes roll completely backward into his head. They whisked him away leaving Jackson and I standing there.

“I probably know more about him, so I’ll stay and try to answer his questions. You should go back. You’ve got a group to run,” he said.

I walked back to the rehab, trying to make sense of the last half hour.

The aftermath

I ran the group like nothing happened. Shortly when it was over, I walked into the courtyard area and saw Amy leaving with her stuff. I ran to catch up with her and she told me that Autumn had just fired her. We exchanged email addresses and I went into Autumn’s office.

She was crying and asked me to shut the door.

“This isn’t how a rehab is supposed to operate,” she said. “I went to three of them myself. I’ve worked at four. This is all wrong. I can’t do this.”

She told me that the owner of our facility got a call from the owner of the facility Bob was supposed to be heading off to had the day gone as expected. When he found out, he called our facility and Amy fessed up to him what was happening. He then asked to speak to Autumn and told her that she had to fire Amy for getting Jackson and I involved since it could have been a liability.

I sat with Autumn for 20 minutes trying to calm her down. I explained to her that this was her first rehab as the facility leader and since it was kind of a bottom-of-the-barrel place, all she could do was move up.

“Do your year here and then find a new job. You have to look at this as just a great line to have on your resume. Someday you’ll be running the facility you deserve,” I said.

“One of the patients who is paying to be here shouldn’t be running the most effective group and soothing the director of the place because she can’t stop crying,” she laughed, realizing the absurdity of everything going on that day. She assured me that I wouldn’t be in any trouble and she appreciated what I was trying to do, but also told me not to be an accessory to any schemes again.

I visited Bob at the hospital the next day with Jackson. He told us that the doctor said if he’d have had that episode in his hotel room and we arrived 30 minutes later, he likely would have died choking on his vomit or the internal bleeding might have caused things to go far worse than they did.

When Jackson and I walked back to the facility I asked him if he thought everybody could be saved from addiction. He said no, the statistics proved they can’t.

“Bob’s one of those guys,” he said. “The bottle is going to kill him. He’s not done with it.”

I preferred to believe those people who died just didn’t get help in time and not that they were incapable.

About 18 months later, I spoke to Bob a few days before I went in front of a judge to be sentenced. He agreed to write a letter of recommendation for me, but it never came. He said he was sober at that point and ironically serving as a counselor for the same company, just at their location further north.

I haven’t talked to him since. I know how to reach out through Facebook, but am not sure I want to do that. I don’t want to find out something went bad, and I don’t want silence, because I’ll assume the worst. I prefer to believe that Bob is still in California, doing well and helping others. I would rather live in a world where Jackson’s conclusion is wrong.

 

If You’re Not Willing to Ask For Help, You’re Not Going to Overcome Addiction

I think there are three basic steps in achieving recovery: 1) Admitting to yourself have a problem, 2) Asking a professional for help, 3) Following through with treatment. I think the second step is the toughest part for most people and where recovery either happens, or doesn’t.

I don’t think admitting you have an addiction problem is difficult. Sure, it’s the first step, and I can only speak for myself, but even with mild denials I provided my brain, I always knew something was different and abnormal with my pornography use and alcohol consumption compared to most people. When I reached the critical point, it was clear something was wrong, even if I had no idea exactly what was going on with me.

Treatment comes in all forms and sizes, but if you follow through with it, you’ll achieve some level of recovery. I have met plenty of people who think they are the special one who can’t recover, but in reality, I have only met one person I ever thought to myself, “I don’t know if they’re constitutionally capable of long-term recovery.” Thankfully, I was wrong. They have been sober for 5 years now. I’ll tell that story in a few days. My point here is that if you are committed to recovery, you will recover. It’s not a complex recipe.

As some of you know, I have a side hustle giving specific one-on-one advice to addicts and/or their loved ones. It’s featured in the ad on the side of the homepage of the website, and you can access it HERE.

I always tell people that it’s a big step they asked me for help, but at the end of the day, I’m not a professional. I’m somebody who can be the first person they talk to who isn’t going to judge and will create a safe space. I can be the person who lets them know what the next several steps could/should be. Talking to me is like easing your toe into the water. It’s asking for help, but the sugar-free, “light” version.

One of the reasons I started this consulting/advisement service is because I know just how hard it is to ask for help. I usually work with someone for 3-6 major interactions (phone calls/skype/email) and it’s all about getting them to recognize they need real help. They can practice telling their story with me and I can get them ready for a therapist or a 12-step meeting. If I can remove any of the fear, it’s not as big a leap to getting the help.

The biggest pushback I get is not in somebody feeling that they don’t have a problem, but feeling that their problem doesn’t rise to the level of needing professional help, or being too proud to take that leap and becoming the kind of person who “has to get help.”

I try to kill both of these birds with one stone. I tell them that if their doctor referred them to cardiologist because of a heart issue, they wouldn’t compare themselves to other heart patients, they’d just go. If you need glasses, you go to the eye doctor. You don’t worry about people with better or worse vision. If you see an oncologist and they give you one year to live, you don’t stop seeing them because they give some people only three months.

I also try to address their pride. I have to admit, I’ve never been a prideful person. It probably has to do with my imposter syndrome. I’ve worn so many masks, pride doesn’t phase me all that much. I think it’s just another mask I never wore. But I’ll point out the fact that Pride, much like Lust, is one of the seven deadly sins. Also, I’ve never heard of anybody on their death bed complain that they didn’t have enough pride or were glad they didn’t ask people for help. The deathbed is for regret and never getting professional help will be a huge regret.

So why do the naysayers point to inpatient rehabs and 12-step groups as having historically low success rates? Having been to a couple, I can tell you that those who are forced to go, either by their family or the law, never actually asked for the help. You can’t skip to step three without step two. I’d guess between 50% and 75% of the people at both my rehabs didn’t want to be there. And if you’re at an AA or NA meeting, watch how many people only show up once or twice — likely pushed by family — or need to have their “court card” signed by the leader at the end of the meeting. A judge told them to be there. They aren’t there because they are seeking help.

As far as the self-imposed stigma of being one of “those people” who are in the minority of asking for professional help, you’re actually in the minority if you aren’t wiling. According to a 2018 study by the Barna Group, 42% of American adults have seen a counselor at some point, 13% are in active therapy and 36% haven’t seen a therapist but are open to it. Not being willing to see a therapist actually makes you one of the few, not many.

You know you have a problem. If you want it bad enough, you can get through the treatment. You just have to be willing to ask for the help. Don’t let fear hold you up.

Do Not Waste Your Time at a Therapist You Feel No Connection With

I just came back from my therapist’s office after our first meeting in nearly a month. We had to cancel an appointment from two weeks ago for whatever reason, and I think it’s been the longest gap between appointments we’ve had since I started seeing her in late March 2014.

She’s not the first therapist I’ve ever had, but she’s the best and I know that I would not have been able to process the boatload of mental health and experiential baggage I brought to the table following my arrest with just anybody else.

The first time I was seen in a formal therapy setting was in 1996, shortly after one of my best friends was killed by a drunk driver. The therapist let me ramble for a few weeks, wrote some stuff down, but after a month or so of grieving, I recognized this guy, at least 30 years my senior, was no help at all. I could have been talking to a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan and got the same feedback.

In 2000, I went back to therapy, with an overall feeling something was wrong. He diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, which was just the tip of the iceberg of diagnoses to come, but I connected with him in a weird way. He was always telling me about his problems, which were way worse than mine. I was 24 at the time and he was probably 15 years older. It seemed like he made many choices in life he wished he could backtrack on, but didn’t have the courage. I saw him for about a year, took about six months off, then saw him for another year. This was around the time I was put on medication for bipolar disorder.

I had another 6-week stint with a therapist around 2005. He mostly wanted to talk about football and I probably wasn’t completely into it either, complaining of general malaise, but unsure what the real issues were and not in a place to delve too deeply.

And while I mostly stayed on my meds, I went almost the next 10 years without seeing a therapist. I had determined that my problems where chemical, not emotional. While the second guy was some help, I told myself that I’d never received that “magic bullet” piece of advice that would turn my life completely around, so clearly therapists didn’t “get me” and it was a waste of time.

I was referred to my current therapist immediately after I was arrested by the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. I learned years later that I wasn’t supposed to end up with her, as I was referred to someone else in her office. As the owner of the practice, she seemed interested in the brief bit she heard of my story and took me on.

I only saw her twice before I went off to rehab for alcoholism. The last thing she said to me was “Do me a favor and give it a chance.” Those words stuck with me and I don’t know if I would have come to terms with being an alcoholic as quickly without that advice.

Early on, the work was intense. I’d see her either twice a week for an hour, or once for two hours. There are benefits and drawbacks to each set-up. We’d talk about things I learned at my two rehabs, go over my mental health history, and talk about how my experiences in life led me to where I was at the time. It was very tough work a lot of the time. I think she’s seen me cry more than anybody else in the last 35 years. Two years after first meeting her, when it was time to do my six months in jail, I was a healthier version of myself than I’d ever been, with her deserving a lot of the credit.

She testified in my favor at the sentencing and visited me in jail. I resumed a steady schedule of therapy upon release and although it was part of my probation conditions, it’s not like I would have stopped seeing her. Off probation now, I’m still not quitting.

As I’ve continued to move in healthier directions, writing books and trying to educate about porn addiction, she’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders and I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to keep going if she didn’t boost me up from time to time.

I read so much about people who are just not connecting with their therapist. I have to admit, I was not always 100% open and honest about everything with my former therapists, so some of the problem was likely me. With my current therapist, I can tell her anything, even things that are uncomfortable and shameful.

I wouldn’t have ever thought a woman who’s only three or four years older than me would be the one I clicked with, but she was the one. Her practice has expanded mightily to several offices over the last few years and despite transitioning most of her client load, she was gracious enough to continue seeing me. That meant a lot as I can’t imagine the time it would take to not only get up to speed with another therapist, but also be lucky enough to make that connection.

If you’re not connecting with your therapist, and you’ve given it four or five sessions, stop wasting your time. Just because they have some letters after their name does not mean they are instantly the perfect one for you. I needed someone who asked a lot of questions and who understands my strange sense of humor. I needed someone who shared a bit about her life, but didn’t make it about her. I didn’t want someone who ended every session with “homework.” I didn’t do my homework in high school, what makes you think I’m going to do it now?

She’s never given me the “magic bullet” piece of advice to change everything for the better. She helped me learn it doesn’t exist. While I don’t need the intense therapy I had early in recovery, it’s reassuring to know we can check-in every 2 or 3 weeks, even if it’s just for chit-chat. Hopefully that will continue for many years to come.

Find a therapist you connect with because it will make a world of difference. It did for me.