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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your rationalization is bullshit,” I said loudly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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: 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.

Q&A Time: He Promised He’d Stop Looking at Porn, But Didn’t. Now What?

QUESTION: I confronted him in the past about looking at pornography on the computer and he said he’d stop, but he didn’t. What now?

ANSWER: What incentive he had to change in the past and what incentive does he have now? If you don’t have boundaries, or don’t follow through on your ultimatums, there is no incentive for him to listen to you other than he knows it’s easier to just listen and nod, then go do what he wants.

Probably about three years before the police ever got involved in my life, prior to entering the critical phase of my addiction, my wife stumbled upon my browser history after a particular session of looking at porn. She said something to the effect of, “Do you really spend this much time looking at porn?” I don’t remember the exact wording, but the message I got was that I shouldn’t be as involved with porn as I knew I was.

But that was the end of it. I don’t know if she was asking me to change, or just making an observation, but it went in one ear at out the other because there was no incentive for me to reduce my viewing.

By the time my viewing reached a critical point, there was nothing she could have said or done to stop me. You need to nip this in the bud before he ever gets to that place.

This question sounds a little bit like a cop-out or throwing up your hands, if I’m being honest. You seem to not think the situation can be fixed because of previous history, so why bother trying again? If you value your relationship and want it fixed, shouldn’t you try again and again until you reach the conclusion it’s hopeless? Once you deem it hopeless, you can either stay and brace yourself, or you can leave the relationship, but until then, you try, try, try.

If he says he’ll change again, hold him to it. Find out how he’s going to change. Is he going to see a therapist? Is he going to give you access to his computer? What are the ways that life will be different after you have this conversation? If he says “You can look at my email” then look at his email.

If he says he can’t change, offer to help find him the recovery tools he needs to begin. If he says he won’t change, then you’re back at bracing yourself or leaving.

The kind of change you’re looking for involves seeing a therapist to get at the root of the addiction and if you can be there to help him in a positive, constructive manner, this time you may see the change that you didn’t before.

 

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.

Q&A Time: Even if Porn Addict Husband Doesn’t Go To Therapy, Should I?

QUESTION: My husband has told me that he looks at pornography, and he will stop. I’ve suggested couple’s counseling or even individual sessions and he has said no. I read an online board that says I should still go by myself. Can that really help anything?

ANSWER: I don’t think it will come as any shock to you that I answer this with a resounding “Yes!” It may not directly help with his pornography addiction since it sounds like he hasn’t actually accepted it as a problem. That may just take some time.

Get a therapist…and be honest with your therapist.

I believe that even though I wasn’t 100% honest with my therapists through my 20s and early 30s, they were still instrumental in helping me get through some of the challenges I faced that had nothing to do with my addictions. There is something powerful about somebody who is there to advocate for you, is rooting for you, but isn’t emotionally involved, nor plays an active role in your everyday real life.

The relationship between a therapist and patient is unique and unlike any other. I think most people fear going to a therapist because they think it will be a complete bearing of their deepest secrets and simply by the act of seeing a therapist, it must mean there is something wrong.

I wish that I could go back to the beginning when I was 20 years old when the therapist inevitably asked me if there was any sexual dysfunction, I could say, “I have been renting porno movies or buying Playboy every month since I was 14 years old.” I don’t know what I thought the blowback would be. They weren’t going to kick me out of their office.

But, like so many guys who believed porn was something to be ashamed of and that I was just walking around with this invisible black cloud of perversion over my head, I kept my mouth quiet when it came to the pornography. I didn’t talk about any of my sexual hang-ups, either. I just said everything was fine and complained about work or my parents.

Would I have ended up behind bars if I had been honest with my therapist in my 20s? Honestly, I don’t think so. Part of the reason my addiction festered into a nasty wound was because I never had the salve of a professional’s ear. That’s on me, not them.

A therapist is a great sounding board and somebody who isn’t going to take it personally when you get mad or start crying or blurting things that you can’t believe are coming out of your mouth because you’ve tried to suppress them for so long. A therapist is going to know the next thing to say to keep things moving in the right direction.

I will mention that not counting the pair of couple’s counselors that my wife and I saw, I’ve seen five therapists, but I say I’ve only had two. I probably saw the other three a combined eight times.

If you’re not clicking with a therapist, find someone else. In your case, it would help if you could talk to someone who has experience working with relationships and hopefully has some experience in dealing with addiction, even if it is drugs and alcohol. Your personalities must mesh and there needs to be the opportunity for a level of trust to develop. You’re wasting your time if you don’t have a bond, or at least I was.

Ironically, the therapist I have now who has seen me through all of my recovery is the first woman I’ve seen. I never would have guessed it, but it isn’t an older man who I clicked with, but a woman only a couple years older than me.

You’re going to learn a lot about yourself in therapy you never otherwise would have. I wholeheartedly endorse therapy for anyone with a pulse.


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.