Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – July Edition

I rather enjoy when it’s time to write this monthly article. It lets me take the thoughts I haven’t been able to form into a blog-length article and just blurt them, even if they’re only a sentence long. It’s just like clearing a garden of the stuff that is decent, but won’t grow.

Side Effects May Occur: My doctor changed my meds recently. He pulled the Wellbutrin and put me on Zyprexa because I’ve been coping with a little bit of depression. This time of year, as the weather is reaching its zenith in these parts, I almost always get depressed. It’s like an opposite seasonal disorder. Anyway, I’m about 10-11 days into it and while the tiredness is getting better, I just feel exhausted so much of the time, especially the first half of the day. It’s supposed to take around two weeks to disappear. I guess the good news is I’m not depressed, but the bad news is I feel stoned most of the day. I just don’t understand how I took stuff recreationally 20 years ago to feel this way on purpose. I guess it’s numbing and that’s what I wanted.

Oh, Canada: In the statistics for this website, which is about 10 months old now, Canada has always come in at a distant third place for visitors and page views, far after the US and UK. Some weeks, India beats Canada. Over the last half of last week, Canada was doing triple the visits of the United States, often accounting for 80% of the traffic, which has been up lately. I have absolutely no idea why this is happening. It’s not resulting in better sales in Canada of my book. I’m getting the same number of queries for my peer support website. Something is going on in the Great White North.

The Fallout of Coping With Betrayal: As many know, I’m working on a book with a professional therapist about pornography addiction geared at the female partners of male addicts. I’ve found many sites run by them on the Internet and talk to many as part of my peer counseling efforts. It’s amazing how differently addiction can hit a wife or girlfriend. Some immediately view it as an illness and work to help their loved one get help. Others view it as the ultimate betrayal and years later are still trying to come to terms with it. I discussed this with my therapist the other day. She said that there are some betrayal trauma recovery patients who she believes will just never get over it, the way that a small percentage of people just never get over the death of someone super-close to them. And “get over it” can be a catch-all term, of course, but she’s talking about being able to live a healthy life and move on to a place where your day-to-day activities are largely back to normal. The hurt will always be there, but the human spirit as a will to survive…except when it doesn’t. Now I’m debating whether to put this in the book or not. Saying, “It’s possible you’re in the super-minority who never get over this” seems unhelpful, but if that’s what happens, is ignoring it a healthier option?

Punishment Fitting the Crime: She told me something else fascinating. If you went back 10 years, the sexual offender clients she had were all hands-on. Today, it’s all hands-off. She said it’s basically the same number of clients, but it’s all people who did stupid things via the Internet. Obviously, I’m somebody who has a personal interest in the legal system, but with the rate that sex offender registries are growing in this country, we’re going to have to start recognizing that the same lifetime punishments for somebody who looked at something illegal online and someone who actually sexually abused a child may need to be put into two categories. I’m not minimizing what I did, I just think that if I am on a list for life, far more has to happen to the hands-on offender post-incarceration or if they are going to be on a list for the rest of their life, maybe the non-contact offenders should be allowed off it at some point.

Cause and Effect? The other thing I wonder, and I’m sure I could compare crime stats to figure it out, is if access to illegal material online has caused the number of real-life abuse incidents to drop or if it’s actually caused them to spike. I’ll have to dig into that sometime.

Expert on the Addiction of Pornographic Material: You may see the phrases “porn addict expert”, “pornography addiction expert”, “pornography addict expert” on this website more in the future. I’ve been told by someone who runs a speaker’s bureau that if I’m moving my life in the direction of being an advocate and educator, I need to more fully exploit my credentials and build a name for myself. If someone types in “pornography addiction expert” into Google, I’m going to want my name to come up in the first page, so dropping these phrases is important. So that explains that, from a porn addiction expert.

Did You Get My Good Side? I wrote another article for Recovery Today magazine that was published last week. Instead of using my usual headshot, they used my mugshot. Yeah..now there’s a guy who looks like someone who should be giving advice.

Almost 200: My book has either been ordered or is now confirmed to be in 198 libraries. If it’s not in yours, request it. Think of all the people you’re helping…like me, for instance.

Help Feed My Kids My book is about to fall under 1 million for the first time on the Amazon bestseller chart. Tomorrow marks six months to the day it’s been out. Don’t let it fall under the 1 million barrier on such an occasion. You’ve been reading my stuff for free for too long. Go pick up your copy HERE.

Facing Triggers Makes You Stronger

I hope this entry doesn’t trigger anyone, but I wanted to talk about triggers. So, it may be triggery. Prepare to be triggered. Is this a good enough trigger warning? Trigger.

I think it’s time in the mental health/addiction/abuse survivor communities that we talk a long, hard look at triggers and figure out – on an individual basis – what are actual debilitating triggers and what are excuses for us to not live our lives and face the challenges everyday life brings.

I was talking to a therapist recently, exchanging emails about my book, and they expressed something that I’ve often felt but never thought was safe to say: Some people use their mental illness, addiction or past abuse as a crutch and excuse to sit on the sidelines of life and “triggers” are the doctor’s note that excuses them from gym class. Sometimes, you actually can’t participate, but a lot of the time, you just don’t want to…it’s hard, it’s too much work, it makes you tired, you might not be good at, you don’t like it, people might laugh at you and you may just be lazy.

I was glad to hear this, because I agree. As somebody who is in recovery with a couple of addictions, was the victim of some childhood abuse and tries to keep a couple of diagnosed mental illness issues in check, I could easily throw myself on the floor and take a pass on living life. I know I could also easily create the kind of enablers who would let me.

I don’t want this article to come off as cold or unfeeling. I understand we’re all at different phases of our recovery, but it feels like the more I become part of a recovery community, the more I meet people who have never had an identity in life until they became “addiction/abuse/mental health survivor.” It wholly consumes them and it just doesn’t seem healthy. They use “triggers” as excuses, crutches and ways to draw attention to themselves.

Why not look at triggers as challenges to our recovery – good challenges. Recovery means nothing if we’re not overcoming something. Those drug addicts sitting in prison are not in recovery. They are just being denied their addiction, and not by choice. Triggers allow us to use the tools we develop in recovery. Isn’t that why we learned them in the first place?

My alcohol triggers

I don’t want somebody to put alcohol in front of me and I don’t want to be around drunk people. I have had both happen to me since I stopped drinking almost four years ago and it comes with a combination of jealousy, anger and irritation. I haven’t always been able to immediately remove myself from the situation. When this first happened several years ago, it was that I wanted to drink. Now, it’s more about not being around the assholes that people turn into when they are drunk, because it reminds me of the kind of asshole I was. It’s still triggering of strong emotions, but they have evolved…and I don’t have to run from them. I think it’s actually better to sit with them and figure out what they are about.

I try to avoid alcohol. I don’t have any need to go down that aisle at the grocery store, I won’t buy it for other people if asked and I don’t keep any in my home. I could avoid family gatherings, where drinking happens and I could never go to a restaurant again to keep away from alcohol. That would reduce trigger-causing situations. It would also mean I don’t spend Christmas with my family or enjoy quality food made for me that I don’t know how to make at home.

My porn triggers

I have Cinemax and HBO and whatever other cable channels are part of the massive introductory package for DirecTV. They show plenty of late night skin. I use the Internet for my job as a freelancer writer. Nobody knows more than me just how much porn can be found on the Internet. Almost every convenience store has Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines. In the past, I turned on HBO specifically for the dirty stuff and went online with porn as the only item on the agenda.

Yeah, if I happen to be up at midnight and I’m cruising through the preview guide and see something like “Lust Island” on one of the pay channels, it piques my curiosity. I know my favorite porn sites are only a couple keystrokes away at any given moment and when I see a porno magazine as I’m buying gas or coffee with a particularly intriguing cover behind the counter, I wonder what that woman looks like naked on the inside.

And then I just keep going. I don’t watch the movie, look at the websites or purchase the magazine. Is it hard? Not nearly as much as it was when I first started addressing my porn addiction, but there are still times where I have to actually tell myself “No. Walk away.”

I could get rid of the cable channels with one phone call. I could find a job that never means I need to be on the Internet again. I could only buy gas or coffee at places that don’t have pornographic magazines.

If I did that though, I’d miss out on a lot of good, non-pornographic movies and shows. I’d have to turn my back on a career I’ve spent over 20 years building and I’d have to drive further for gas and coffee. Why would I want to deny myself these things and make my life even more complicated? Because of triggers?

My abuse triggers

As somebody who suffered from various forms of abuse from a non-family caregiver when I was a kid and has had to deal with all kinds of repressed memories surfacing in the last few years, I get how hard it can be if you’re an abuse victim and don’t have addictions.

For 25 years, I could drive by this babysitter’s house without even thinking about the amount of time I spent in terror in that home. When these memories started to be unlocked, I couldn’t ignore her home when I drove by. The proximity to my parents’ house makes it almost impossible to avoid, although I could drive 2-3 miles out of my way and get to their house from another route.

I probably had a visceral reaction to her home for over a year. I would bet that’s 100 times at least. I could say the positive is that I didn’t drive 200-300 miles out of my way, which isn’t cheap when it comes to gas. I drove by that house earlier today. I saw it, said to myself “there it is” and kept on driving. She’s dead. She hadn’t lived there in 10 years before she died. But if I went a different way, it’s like she won.

Summing Up

I think for real recovery, we need to face our triggers more than we do. We allow them to act as anchors, as hurdles and as impediments to a better life. We’re scared of the emotions we’ll feel or the actions we’ll take facing them, but if you can get through, you’re going to be stronger on the other side.

I don’t think I’ll ever get myself in a situation where somebody is pouring booze down my throat, holding my eyelids open to look at porn, or forcing me to tour that home and tell the stories of my abuse. So as long as I learn to control my own actions, triggers are actually little exercises in making me stronger over the long-term.

If you’re incapable of facing your triggers, I’m sorry. It must be horrible. But for every trigger you honestly can’t handle, are there one or two that you can but choose not to deal with? I could let all of my triggers run my life and make my decisions for me, but I don’t. I choose to be the one in control now. Ask yourself if there’s more control in your life by facing your triggers head-on and defeating them. I think you know the answer.

** Learn more about all phases of mental health therapy by clicking here **

The Bond Between Sex Addicts and Those With Eating Disorders

Spending seven weeks during the summer of 2015 at the Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was one of the most rewarding, transformational experiences in my life. Since I had been to rehab for my alcoholism 13 months earlier, and spent 10 weeks in that program, I thought I’d be able to breeze in and out of this place, adding to the resume I was trying to build for the judge in my case, showing I was far more ill than evil.

Much like my first experience in California, it didn’t take long before I recognized that while I wasn’t a sex addict in terms of actual intercourse, my decades-long pornography addiction clearly qualified me to be part of Sante’s program.

Sante dealt with four groups of people. There were the traditional drug and alcohol addicts that most rehabs see as their core clientele, but this rehab also dealt with sex addicts and people with eating disorders. They believed that most addicts were cross-addicted and could benefit by having so many resources in one place.

Upon arriving, I never would have thought that I had anything in connection with a female almost half my age whose relationship with food and body image had become toxic. I, frankly, have never really cared what I looked like, maintained a healthy weight with little-to-no diet or exercise, and haven’t met a meal I didn’t enjoy. Forty-eight days later, when I left the facility, they were some of the hardest people to say goodbye to and it’s their stories that stick with me.

The core issues, both with what causes their problems and where solutions exist, are surprisingly similar with sex addicts and sufferers of eating disorders. Many of the same obsessive compulsive urges and impulse control deficiencies with both conditions mirror each other. Cycles of shame, ritual and fantasy are strikingly similar as well.

I’m not going to get into the science of everything. If you want to read more about it, check out Binge Eating, Bulimia and Sexual AddictionThey explain the connection in far less words and far clearer than I ever could.

Where I think we felt the strongest connection was in looking ahead at our lives after leaving Sante. The goal with drugs and alcohol is simple:  Stop. You can’t do that with food and you can’t do that with sexuality. Nobody is ever told that they need to learn to have a healthy relationship with cocaine or meth.

Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy sex life is the post-rehab goal, not completing abstaining. For me, I was using pornography to mask a lot of feelings of pain and rejection, but I was also using it as a surrogate for the real thing. Healthy for me is not using images to soothe, nor to replace physical interaction.

For the folks in the other program, they had to figure out how to consume calories in a healthy way and hopefully change their attitude about what food meant in their lives.

Sex and food weren’t the real problem…what was buried deep within us was. We just used sex and food as a conduit. Unlike those who used drugs and alcohol, we had to figure out how to continue to use these things, but in a healthy way.

Several of the females in the eating disorder program (there was one male) ended up coming to terms with sexual addictions they didn’t think were big problems when they first arrived. It’s easy to point to your main addiction, and explain everything else away as fallout bad choices. It was both impressive and courageous to see these women tackle additional demons.

I think both groups also learned with as much as we surprisingly had in common, that stereotyping anybody with addiction is a mistake. What kind of woman has anorexia? What kind of guy is a sex addict? It’s easy to make broad generalizations until you meet people and hear their stories first-hand. I feel lucky to have had that opportunity.

Some of us were successful when I followed up, others were not. That’s just the story of the people you’ll meet at rehab. It was eye-opening the people I’d meet who I had the most in common with would be from the eating disorder program. It’s a case of not judging a book by its cover, and when it comes to recovery and new ways of thinking, I’ve found an open mindset is the best tool for success.

IF YOU LIKE THIS POST, THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP, WRITTEN IN JULY 2018. READ IT HERE

Until Politicians Understand Addiction, They’ll Never Solve The Problem

More than ever before, I cringe when I hear a politician talk about addiction. Sure, there are plenty serving who are probably hiding addictions to alcohol, gambling, sex or whatever, but these are often the same politicians who rally against help the loudest. I’m not going to get on my soapbox about this hypocrisy today, however.

I cringe because, as I wrote in the most recent blog, if you have not experienced addiction, there is no way to truly understand how it feels inside. At best, the non-addict can see the pain of it in the addicted and witness the fallout of addiction-related decision making. Addiction is a problem, but it’s unlike any other problem out there.

We are now facing an opioid epidemic like never before. Politicians think they can solve the problem, or at least want to tackle it, but they don’t understand the problem to begin with.

There is a logical solution any economist could give you. It’s been proven going after drug dealers doesn’t work. If you want to end the sale of opiates or any other illegal substance, you simply lock-up everyone who has been nabbed using them. The drug user is the customer. If there are no customers, the industry ceases to exist and the dealers have to look elsewhere to make their money. Every industry that has died has seen its customers go away. Why wouldn’t that work here?

The problem to this solution is that plenty of people won’t get arrested and of those who do, they’ll get released someday. If you have an addiction, even if it has strayed into illegal territory, as long as you haven’t harmed another, you shouldn’t be doing a second of jail time. I was not in this category. I deserved what I got because I hurt people with my crime.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert because while I’m an alcoholic, I have never had an issue with drugs beyond a lot of pot smoking in my early 20s, prior to be properly medicated for bipolar disorder. But, I spent a combined 5 months at inpatient rehabilitation facilities and 6 months in jail living side-by-side with drug addicts.

Addicts have a lot in common. Science suggests that regardless of the addiction, the same basic chemical process happens in the brain. Granted, certain addictions won’t cause the additional physical risk of using drugs, but that undying, incontrollable urge to use drugs is something that any addict can relate to and understand.

Addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem. I can’t remember what book I read it in at this point, but it said something like less than 10% of those suffering with addiction don’t have some kind of mental health issue and/or major trauma in their past. These may both go undiagnosed and unrecognized in the user for years, but they’re present. My understanding of my mental health issues came more than a decade before I was able to admit to and address the trauma that happened in my life as a child.

People without addiction seem to think that if you treat the symptom, the problem will go away. You’d think with almost 40 years of clearly failed drug policy in the United States, they’d go a different route, but the things that all addicts need are the not the things that get votes.

We can stereotype and guess at what our politicians’ stances on mental health and/or addressing trauma are, but do you actually know their positions? Do they know their positions? Does anybody know what’s really being done and how success is being measured? I’m among the 99.999% who can say no, I don’t.

You can deal with a sick tree by poking at its leaves. If the illness is in the roots, all you’re doing is landscaping. If all you’re doing to deal with an addict, drug or otherwise, is trying to get them to stop taking whatever substance or engaging in whatever behavior is your perceived issue with them, all you’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, infected wound. It needs to be treated at the source.

I’m not going to get into a giant philosophical partisan political debate because it doesn’t actually solve anything. There are a couple of organizations in this world that have the resources — the money, the brain power, the infrastructure — to solve the great problems that face mankind, but they don’t. The United States government is one of them. A war on drugs, or any addiction, may get votes, but will never work. If we’re going to get to a new level of understanding and solutions with addiction, it needs to be viewed as a humanitarian effort.