‘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.

 

Guest Article: Making Early Porn Addiction Recovery Easier

Note From Josh: When Patrick Bailey asked if he could share the following article, I thought it was perfect. Learn more about Patrick, and his extensive health writing, at the end of this article.

By Patrick Bailey
Living in recovery from porn addiction can be a lifelong process full of challenges and wins. There are many emotions attached to your journey and navigating your new lifestyle may feel impossible at times. Luckily, the healthier habits you build over time will become easier as you understand your own behaviors from a psychological standpoint. Treating your journey of recovery with patience and compassion will help you move forward as a happy and fulfilled person who sees an optimistic future ahead.

Stay In Treatment

Contrary to popular belief, treatment is a tool you can use for life, not just from the period where you transition from facing your addiction into the beginning of recovery. In fact, the most successful treatments are ones you can integrate into your new lifestyle for the extra professional support. Rewiring your brain and practicing healthy behaviors is not something you need to go through alone. Because addiction can also impact other unhealthy coping mechanisms, consider holistic treatment or an inpatient approach to start your recovery with the most support. There are plenty of licensed psychologists and inpatient treatment centers available for you to lean on, both at the start of your recovery and throughout your new life.

“Crowd Out” Old Habits

Crowding out your old habits will be the easiest way to move forward from any unhealthy behaviors you’ve relied on in the past. Recovery may seem daunting at first, especially if your entire lifestyle has centered around your porn addiction. There is no shame in working hard to create the new lifestyle you want, and there will be moments where you’ll need to dig deep or ask for help in building a new habit to replace an unhealthy one. These new habits will strengthen over time and your patience will pay off after you’ve practiced filling your world with routines and thinking patterns that fulfill you.
Lean on resources and literature for ideas as you integrate healthy coping mechanisms to address your impulses and desires in ways that work for you.

Build Your Support System

The quality of your support system will help you feel encouraged and far less alone on your journey of recovery. Porn addiction can be isolating as people may not understand your struggles or experiences so far, but you can nurture a strong support system no matter how alone you feel right now. Even one high quality friend or therapist can make all the difference in supporting your healthy lifestyle. Check out hotlines,
support groups in your area, and even peer support advocates who are willing and able to be there as you challenge yourself. Learning to ask for help will be one of the most critical skills you will need to master in order to navigate future challenges, so make the practice a part of your early recovery.

Making recovery from porn addiction easier requires being able to ask for help and connecting yourself with the resources available to support you. Changing your habits can be mentally and emotionally draining, but will pay off in a healthy and fulfilled lifestyle when you find appropriate outlets for your emotions and desires. Living your truth as a recovering addict is a journey that will last for life, so lean on these resources to make your experience positive and manageable.

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.

Spotting the Signs of Pornography Addiction, Updated

I’m putting a new introduction and conclusion on this blog entry, but the meat of it ran on December 11, 2017. It is the most frequently viewed article on this site and really speaks to the reason I put the site up in the first place.

Porn addiction is a very real thing. Since this blog first appeared, the World Health Organization finally included Sexual Impulse Disorder among its diagnosable conditions in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) guidebook used by mental health clinicians worldwide. Hopefully the American Psychiatric Association will update their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders (DSM), which tends to be favored by American clinicians (and insurance companies) when it comes to this disease.

Porn addiction really is a disease, and like any disease, there are stages. Addiction.com came up with a list talking about the stages of porn addiction. Looking back, I can see my journey through all three stages clear as crystal.

Early Warning Signs

  • Lying about, keeping secrets about and covering up the nature and extent of porn use
  • Anger or irritability if confronted about the nature or extent of porn use
  • Sexual dysfunction with real-world partners, including erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and an inability to reach orgasm

I had girlfriends who hated everything about porn and those who didn’t. It didn’t matter to me. I’d deny to both that I looked at the stuff. I had folders for my folders on my computer. As a young guy in my early 20s, when I was with a female sexually for the first time, I almost uniformly was never able to perform to completion, unless I did it myself. I was intimidated by the fact I didn’t have the full control of the situation as I did with pornography. It was scary to let myself go. I would have to think of porn and think of what we were doing in terms of porn to perform. By the second or third encounter, it was not like real-life porn anymore because with traditional porn, it’s one-and-done.

Ongoing Signs

  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use, with hours and sometimes even days lost to pornography
  • An inability to form lasting social and intimate romantic relationships
  • Intense feelings of depression, shame and isolation
  • Disintegration of relationships with family, friends and romantic partners
  • Loss of interest in non-porn activities such as work, school, socializing, family and exercise

The pattern for my intimate relationships that lasted longer than a couple of months featured a dramatic drop in physical intimacy after the initial rush was gone. With porn, everything was new every time. After the 100th intimate encounter with a girlfriend, you know how the movie ends. I never allowed my physical relationships to become emotionally or spiritually intimate. I equated intercourse with only physical pleasure, because that’s all porn was to me.

Other signs were that I would look forward to people being out of the house so I could look at porn, or planning to watch later when I wasn’t at home yet. Watching regular TV was a trigger if I saw an actress and wondered if she’d done any nude scenes in the past. I couldn’t wait to do the research online to find out.

Critical Signs

  • Viewing progressively more intense or bizarre sexual content
  • Escalation from two-dimensional porn viewing to use of technology for casual, anonymous or paid-for sexual encounters, whether in-person or via Webcams
  • Trouble at work or in school (including reprimands and/or dismissal) related to poor performance, misuse of company/school equipment and/or public use of porn
  • Physical injury caused by compulsive masturbation
  • Financial issues
  • Legal issues (usually related to illegal porn use)

This is my crash. Ignoring a crumbling business, ignoring my psych meds, not getting any sleep, allowing my alcoholism to rule me, being up at 3 a.m. so I can talk to women in chatrooms…eventually leading to convincing a teenage girl to expose herself. I lost my job, I went to jail for six months and I’ll be on the sex offender registry for life.

The critical signs and that type of behavior lasted only a couple of months in a 25-year stretch of looking at porn, back to me being a kid. But as with most diseases, when it gets critical, things go downhill fast.

I look back on this article 13 months after I initially posted it and can even more recognize my life during those stages. The further I get down the recovery road, the more surprising it is that I didn’t recognize a problem sooner. I guess my alcoholism, mainly because of the attention it gets from the mainstream, grabbed my attention.

Well over 1,000 people looked at the first version of this article. I hope that they walked away with the two points I’ve consistently tried to make about pornography addiction: First, it can happen to anyone. There is not stereotypical addict. I could line 10 people up and tell you to pick the five addicts and it would be an exercise in futility. Second, if you have a problem, get some help. It’s OK to admit that you can’t do this on your own. The most important thing is you get up before things get to that critical point. If they can get critical for me, they can get critical for everyone.

Since this article went up, I’ve appeared on around 60 podcasts, radio and TV shows talking about pornography addiction, sharing many of these warning signs. Hopefully it’s done some good. If you’d like to check any of them out, visit HERE. As for seeking help, or simply to learn more about the addiction, check out the RESOURCES page and if that doesn’t do it for you, just contact me directly HERE.

 

Q&A Time: Should I Go to Inpatient Rehab for My Addiction?

QUESTION: I have been told by my girlfriend that she thinks I should go to rehab for my porn addiction. I don’t think I need to leave for a month because it’s not that bad. What should I do?

ANSWER: This is probably worth a conversation with a professional so they can weigh-in. Assuming they don’t see losing you for a month or two as lost revenue, they’ll probably guide you in the right direction.

I probably urge people to go to inpatient rehab quicker than most, but that’s because my two stints, first for alcohol and a year later for porn, were the most transformative experiences of my life. Both times I walked into the facility as one person and walked out somebody else.

It’s easy to make excuses why you shouldn’t go. You have a job, help with the kids, have other responsibilities. I would counter that needing a break to take care of one’s health is just as important as all of those things.

My wife ran the house when I did my 10-week and 7-week stints at inpatient rehab, respectively. Thankfully, we were in a financial position where that was possible, but even if we didn’t have savings, I would have found a way. I would have asked for help from family and friends. People don’t want to do that, but people generally like to help people who are helping themselves. Insurance can help and many of these places will consider payment plans. If finances preclude you from one rehab, keep shopping around. I had horrible insurance for my alcohol rehab. I just flat-out couldn’t go to most, but eventually, I found one and I can’t imagine it being a more positive experience if the amenities had been better. I haven’t had a drink since I went there. Isn’t that the point?

I’ve encountered so many people who make excuses why they can’t go to rehab, and while they are almost always valid, I also bring up the point that my wife ran the household for six months while I served my jail sentence. In that case, I did have to ask my parents for help, and it wasn’t a surprise when they were there for us.

With jail, I didn’t have a choice to go or not. We had to adapt. What would happen if your partner was caught for drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days. Would your world implode? Probably not. You’d figure it out and you’d get through it. My wife is proof of that. You can adapt when you HAVE to, and since this is your health we’re talking about, it makes sense to adapt.

I actually think the time that I was away was like a rehab for my family. They needed time away from my energy and my illness. They needed to reconnect instead of hovering around me like satellites. I actually made the comment to my wife shortly thereafter that they all seemed to be far more functional and healthy when I returned both times because they didn’t have to deal with me.

I know people who have had successful recovery having never stepped foot into rehab and I know plenty of people who have never been able to get into a recovery groove despite having gone to rehab five or six times. Like anything, it’s the level of commitment one puts into their recovery. It’s hard, really hard some days, but rehab was the foundation upon which I built my recovery.

I truly believe I would not have had the strength to maintain recovery as well as I did had I not gone to recovery and begun the process of understanding how I became the person I did. Maybe I would have reached the same place over a longer time period with just one-on-one and group therapy at home, but I know just how much inpatient rehab did for me.

———————————

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.

MAJOR NEWS: Compulsive Sexual Behavior will now be labeled as ‘Mental Health Condition’ by World Health Organization

Yes, it will probably take another decade of studies until the DSM (the Bible of Psychiatric Diagnostics), accepts it as a diagnosis, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has just released its latest literature, The ICD-11 (11th version of the International Classification of Diseases) and compulsive sexual behavior is now listed as a diagnosable mental health condition.

This is actually a super huge deal.

Why is this so important? Because health professionals around the world treat this as one of the most important guides to diagnose physical and mental health issues. It’s also used by government agencies around the globe. The WHO is a well-respected organization with no political agenda.

If you’re reading this from the US, you’ll get this analogy: It would be like NBC (WHO) going on the air 10 minutes before everyone and announcing there was an earthquake. Ten minutes later ABC and CBS (DSM) would catch up. It’s akin to breaking news and now it will take a long time to understand what the real fallout is.

Unfortunately, many insurance agencies side with the DSM when it comes to these kind of things. I had to be processed into rehab with an impulse control disorder to have insurance cover my treatment. Even gambling addiction, which is recognized by the DSM, is still scoffed at as a legitimate diagnoses by many insurance companies.

While WHO came just short of calling this compulsive sexual behavior and addiction, it does define it as preoccupation to the point of obsession with and loss of control over sexual fantasy and behavior.

So the next time somebody says to you “Sex addiction isn’t real” or “Porn addiction isn’t real” you can punch them in the stomach and say, “Well Joshua Shea and the World Health Organization says it is!”

We now return you to Wheel of Fortune, already in progress….

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Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – June Edition

I know these secondary, late-week posts usually come out on Thursday, but I’m especially avoiding work today and I really hope that none of you have lives that are so empty you’re setting your clock by when I post something. I mean, I’m flattered if you do, but you really should go outside more if that’s the case.

Speaking of being flattered, I don’t want anybody who nominates me for the Sunshine Liebster Mystery Super-Cool Flying Monkey and Friends Award to think I don’t appreciate it. I do, very much. It’s the kind of thing I would have rolled around in like catnip seven or eight years ago. Somewhere on my front page would be a giant list of all the awards I’ve won to prove I’m special. I could say I’m all healed, but I often wonder if I look at appearances on podcasts and radio shows as my catnip these days. Anyway, thank you for nominating me for these, but I feel like they don’t quite mesh with what I’m trying to do with this site. If you want to award me with something, write a positive review of my book on Amazon. It could stand a few new ones.

In that last paragraph, I mention that podcasts/radio interviews have replaced capturing awards as my currency of validation. That’s the cynical way of looking at it. You could say I’m not at all better than I was when it comes to validation by attention and the difference between a plaque on the wall of my former office and a jpeg of a radio station logo on my website are negligible. The other side is to say that I’m trying to build a reputation as a pornography addiction expert and one of the ways to build a reputation as a porn addiction expert is by showing others regard you as such. I think the easiest way to do this is to somehow say, “Look! These people think I’m a porn addict expert!” If all of these other people have said I’m an expert, then surely it can only help my future as an author or speaker on the subject, right? Isn’t what I’m doing just marketing?

Having the struggle of “potential past negative behavior” vs. “actual important marketable skill” is an internal debate I’ve had a lot recently. Maybe not exactly in those terms, but I’ve been left wrestling with different facets of my personality, and the positive or negative spin I put on them. During recovery I think I made the mistake of believing everything that made me who I was could be attributed for my downfall. I had a good work ethic…but I recast it as unhealthy obsession during early recovery. My charisma was relabeled a negative defense mechanism. My eccentric, creative streak was, upon further review, seen as a deficit of a broken mind. Now I’m left wondering if I was overcompensating during early recovery, trying to eradicate everything I was because of where it led me. Or, was I 100% correct in early recovery and now I’m looking for faults in early recovery thinking so I can excuse certain aspects of my personality?

Maybe having that kind of internal debate is an indicator things are better than they used to be. I didn’t wrestle with this kind of stuff in the past.  Maybe there is no right and wrong. Maybe it’s all just a matter of interpreting and I can’t view these things with blanket policies. Is it self-indulgent to list every interview I’ve done? Sure. Will that help me get other interviews eventually leading to more opportunities? Probably. Is my sobriety toward either porn or alcohol in jeopardy because of this behavior? Not that I have felt, and I’ve obviously really, truly over-examined it.

Sometimes I wonder if the cartoonist who drew the animation I use on this monthly article knows his “guy screaming at stoner” creation is used on a site about recovering from porn addiction, and if not, what they’d think when you told them.

I have no idea what the reason is, but over the last 7-10 days, I’m doing double the traffic on this site than I have been, so thank you to all of the new people for checking things out and the regulars for coming back. I know if I took the word “porn” out of the title and put “fashion” I could get 10 times the views, but I’m not really doing this for quantity. I’d rather have 75 people quietly visit this site per day and get something out of it than 750 trolling their likes and only looking at the pictures. Again, thanks, I appreciate your continued quality support.

What did it feel like to be a porn addict?

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

It was shameful and lonely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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