I’m well aware that there are many paths to addiction recovery, and many modalities within those paths, but I think unless your path takes you through the origin of your addiction, there’s always going to be a piece of you that is more susceptible to relapse than someone who spends the time learning about how it all began.
I’m not going to go deep into any of the stories of the abuse I dealt with as a child. I’ve spoken and written about it many times, and like most addicts, it left me with a boatload of trauma. Instead of processing trauma as it happened, I repressed it with alcohol and porn, and largely forgot about it.
In my first foray into inpatient rehab, I faced the fact that I didn’t just have alcoholism. I’d never heard of pornography addiction, but once it was explained, it was clear. Not only did I have it, but it was the dominant addiction. It predates the alcoholism by a few years and was much harder to control in early recovery.
I’m a few months away from hitting my seven-year sobriety mark. No porn or alcohol relapses and when I look at why, I think it’s because I killed the cravings. How did they get killed? I eliminated the source of the craving: the trauma. Imagine it like a house on fire. When the house is burning, you need to throw water on it. When the fire is extinguished, there is no more need for water.
The roles, and the promises
During my two decades of addiction, alcohol was the substance that numbed me. Pornography was the substance that made me feel in control. While I think I understood the role of alcohol during my addiction, the pornography addiction completely escaped me. When enough people get angry at your drinking, you start to recognize there is an issue, but nobody knew about the porn.
I couldn’t stop the abuse at the hands of the babysitter when I was a kid. The few times I remember standing up to her it was met with threats that things would only get worse. This caused two things to happen. First, I developed a disassociation technique that’s hard to put into words, but I can almost literally shut my mind off to both the measurement of time and what’s happening around me. I can still sit in a waiting room and retreat inside myself for an hour and it feels like five minutes. Driving 12 hours isn’t a big deal for me. It’s actually cleansing.
Second, I promised myself that once I was in the proper position, nobody would control my life. I wasn’t going to let anybody dictate my future if I could help it. This can be seen almost immediately after leaving the babysitter’s house and throughout the rest of my life. I barely listened to my parents’ guidance, I almost always have been my own boss professionally and there are things like running for public office that show I need control of my environment. To this day, I get angry if my wife or kids move anything on my desk, despite it looking like Hiroshima post-bombing. The rest of the house can look anyway they want… this is my area.
Getting to the other side
Working through trauma sucks. There’s no other way to put it. I was the kind of guy who, from age 16 to 36, probably cried two or three times a year, often for no identifiable reason than the world was just too much for me. Then, at 37, I entered recovery. I sobbed more that year and my 38th year on the planet than I did the previous 20 years combined.
Interestingly, I think I’ve probably only cried once or twice in the ensuing years, with the exception of a three-month period in early 2019 when I had a deep depression. They say crying is good and crying is healthy, and I think it was cleansing and healing back in 2014 and 2015. I also think I’m more emotionally available, empathetic and attuned to those around me since early recovery — yet the crying has stopped. There’s no way that’s a coincidence.
All those years I was keeping that trauma bottled deep down inside, little bits would come out through the crying. I was also an angrier guy back then and that has greatly subsided, too. People have commented in the past few years how I now seem like a chill, content guy, both those who knew me before and those who didn’t. It’s hard to disagree with them. I think working through the trauma got me to this place of peace. Sure, stuff like politics still gets my attention, but I better understand how to cope with those things.
How Are You Getting Better?
I’ve recently engaged in a series of emails with somebody who found me online that strongly believes in the 12 Steps and has questioned me about certain things I’ve said in the past. I’ve explained myself more thoroughly to him and made it clear that I am in favor of whatever gets you sober.
But, as I spent months in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous (despite never having done a rail, but that’s a different story), I noticed just how many people were learning to deal with their symptoms of addiction, but not the underlying causes. It’s great to not be drinking, but I don’t think the alcohol makes you an alcoholic. I think what’s going on in your head does, and many of these people simply don’t, won’t or can’t address the mental side of things and their origin stories.
I like this guy I’m corresponding with and he has adapted the program in a way that lets him have leeway with the literal interpretation of the steps and it sounds like he has an open-minded sponsor. That’s important. My two quasi-sponsors were both good men. They felt recovery was more important than methodology. I concur. They also both had long stretches with therapists. I don’t think that can be overlooked.
Putting the Pieces Back Together
I did get a lot out of 12 Step meetings and I found hearing people’s stories very valuable. I also read most of the “Big Book” that comes with AA and SAA. There was plenty to take away from each. But I also plateaued fairly quickly and knew doing the steps would not mesh with who I was at the core. The core is still there. The core is always there. I think the core can be impacted by the addictions, but the core is the core and mine wasn’t going to react to 12 Steps the way some people’s cores do.
Maybe those people don’t need professional therapy. Maybe there is no reason for them to delve into their origin story. However, when many can’t go two weeks without a meeting or they’ll be back to their addiction — even a decade after getting sober — it makes me wonder how “cured” they are.
I’m an introspective person who likes to know how things work, including people. I think it’s one of the reasons I became a journalist. I just never recognized that I may have been avoiding how I worked. It was only through learning my origin story I began to understand. And now, like the folks are saying, I’m quite content.
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12 thoughts on “Understand the Origin of Your Addiction”
Makes sense to me to get at the root rather than the more surface level stuff.
I wish it made sense to more people, but I guess it’s slow changing. 30 years ago, far fewer people went to therapy.
Unless you pull the weeds out by the roots they keep growing back.
That’s very deep. I’m totally stealing it.
I’m at that stage with therapy. I’m scared to find the roots but feel it’s necessary this post made me appreciate that
The process can suck on a very basic level, but it’s also so enlightening when you can put pieces together and be like, “Oh, that’s why I act like this!”
It can be very hard to uncover the root of an addiction – but it is worth looking for it. Otherwise we may find we go through life switching from one addiction to another, trying to numb the pain of something that is hidden from conscious awareness.
Exactly. I was just counseling a woman whose husband hasn’t looked at porn since April, but is now obsessed with politics and video games. She basically feels the same way she did with the porn to her surprise. Addiction is addiction is addiction. It’s the root, not the flower, that needs to be addressed.
Here’s my two cents. You know I always approach talking about my porn addiction from a Celebrate Recovery angle but one of the things I realized as to why I was so obsessed with porn was stated right there in the ten commandments. Not the “Thou shalt not commit adultery” thing but the “Thou shalt not covet.” I wanted what I was convinced every other guy in the world was getting, even though I have a beautiful wife. I’m still a work in progress over a decade later but I’m learning to be content with what God’s blessed me with and it’s made a big difference.
And what’s interesting with porn is that is shows a reality of sexual abandon that 99% will never experience, but we think everybody else is doing it the way it’s shown on the screen. As I say all the time, porn is not a documentary!
Route cause and triggers is definitely critical to full recovery. Its not easy though as so start second guessing almost your entire life. Its like Pandora’s box, once its open there is no going back.
And that’s the hard part. You’re saying goodbye to the trauma, but you’re also saying goodbye to the things that helped you cope with trauma. It’s a big ask of people to do. Recovery takes a long, long time.