A Sex Addict Relapses: An Ex-Girlfriend, A Panty Flash, And Mark CubanS

Well, let's get it out the way — it didn't take me very long to relapse after leaving sex rehab.

The staff warned me my first 48 hours of freedom would be a huge danger zone, and I laughed it off, thinking there was no way I'd screw things up after everything they'd just taught me. Bigshot that I am, I lasted much longer than that — 11 days of increasingly less-solid sobriety before I finally caved. This addiction is a bitch.

If you're expecting some gross tale of animal porn or strip-club depravity, you should know it took far less than that to send me over the edge — don't forget I had very little to look at in the fenced-off world of Gentle Path. Do you get HDNet? You ever watch those super-tease shows Get Out! and Bikini Destinations and wonder who would be pathetic enough to stay up late on a Thursday night and jack off to second-tier models doing handbras? Yeah, well, 11 days out of rehab, I was that guy. Thirty-two grand down the drain because of some nipples covered in sand. Fuck me.

Let's back up a little. I didn't come home from work one night and just decide to act out. At GP they taught us that relapse would come like a snowball down a hill — the small stressors would gather momentum over a few days and eventually throw me off my game. That's pretty much exactly what happened in my second week out of treatment, and looking back, I'd say it's was a miracle I held out as long as I did.

That whole week was filled with work, life, and sexual stress that should have set off alarm bells in my head, but of course I was too stubborn. I thought staying sober in a city full of hot women in those skimpy high-waist dress things they're wearing this year would be as easy as staying sober in a room full of 26 men. My 60-day chip was coming up, and I was pretty much on autopilot. Yeah, I was going to meetings, but I hadn't gotten a sponsor and wasn't yet "working the 12 steps." I was more sober than I'd been in my life, yet completely defenseless — and I had no clue. One morning I bumped into the woman to whom I'd lost my virginity way back in the day, which was kinda weird but I thought little of it. The next day, I cleaned my apartment and found a promo CD for the swingers' club my girlfriend and I had partied in over the winter. That was a little more intense. I stared at the label for like 30 seconds, trying hard to avoid "euphoric recall," but I think that's when the snowball started rolling for real. The lure of that place was hugely powerful — we didn't even swap; I just loved having sex in a bar full of naked people — and therapists and peers spent a lot of time persuading me it wasn't the best environment for a sex addict. I'm still not entirely convinced.

Anyway, I tossed the CD in the garbage but after that, I was fucked. I go through news footage for a living, and nearly lost my mind when I happened on an interview with a girl I'd once made out with in a bar. "This would be a great excuse to call her," I thought, before remembering I'd deleted her from my phone on my last day at GP (same with the shit-eating porn star). A big part of my disease is wanting to "collect" women to keep around just in case, and those deletions had been hugely therapeutic. Still, seeing her on my computer screen filled me with longing. My chest got tight, but I hung in there alone, not calling anyone to vent, which is what my therapists spent 45 days reminding me I should do when things got stressful. I maintained ... only to get KO'd the next day. I was going through footage and noticed one of our camera people had accidentally shot right up a girl's short shorts. I caught a glimpse of underwear and rewound the shot and looked again, and then twice more. And that was it: objectification of women. One of my bottom-line prohibitions, violated. For what? A slight panty flash. A slow wave of dread washed over me, and I felt the old shame and remorse I'd worked so hard to get rid of. I knew what I'd done wasn't the end of the world — resetting my sobriety date, admitting things to a peer, and moving on might have arrested the slide, but my addiction loves coming up with plausible denials. So, pissed off as I was, I kept things to myself and decided it "didn't count." And that's how I ended up home alone on a Thursday night, flipping the channels and ending up on Chez Mark Cuban.

I watched the prime-time censored versions of Get Out! and Bikini Destinations first, objectifying with great gusto and enthusiasm. It felt great to be bad again — the addictive hit washing through my body and blocking out all stress. The ol' brain chemicals that soothed me for years were back, and there was no stopping anything now. After 57 days spent learning and understanding how destructive my porn, sex, and stripper habits were, I was right back at it. What's more, this still "didn't count" because there was no nudity, and I managed not to jack it until the late-night reruns came on. I had no idea they replayed those shows with bras off after midnight, but I promise you I was overjoyed at the prospect. I spent half my life masturbating to the most grim, depraved, barely-sexual-in-their-grossness kinds of porn, but all it took to seduce me now were a few topless chicks posing while shy jet-ski rental guys fidgeted in the background. Oh, and then that Art Mann show came on, which is basically the high-def version of scrambled porn — you sit there for an hour waiting for a glimpse of boob or something, praying it's not too quick and the chick flashing isn't too drunk or fat or surrounded by assholes with disposable cameras.

The rest of that weekend was an exercise in bargaining, lowering my standards and abandoning any pretense of sobriety. I found the pay-per-view channel and ordered away, starting with the softcore shit and moving my way up the ladder. They didn't have the exact fetishes I like but I made do with "squirting," foot worship, and amateur MILFs. Trying to emulate my Internet experience, I quickly fast-forwarded through movies and chain-ordered one after another at 10 bucks a pop. By Sunday, my bill was in the hundreds of dollars and my sobriety was mostly in tatters.

I say mostly because once I'd had enough and came clean to my family and 12-step groups, I understood the true value of that 32 grand. You're not paying for Gentle Path to teach you to be sober and maintain "healthy sexuality" without fail forever and ever; you're paying to learn techniques that pull you out of that horrible pit should you relapse. Honesty — painful, rigorous honesty — is the first one. Instead of taking a two-month chip that weekend I took a one-day "desire" one and made a little speech about how there's no way I could live the lie again. I called peers, finally got a sponsor, and, don't make fun of me, bought Andre Agassi's autobiography. It was like Infinite Jest if it were half as long, non-fiction, and readable in three sittings. It was also inspirational as fuck. After reading the part where Agassi starts his comeback getting mocked and heckled at some dilapidated public court, I realized I hadn't been willing to start from the ground up, to go through the sacrifice I needed to avoid temptation and stay clean. And that meant getting rid of any potential porn delivery system in my life. The relapse made it perfectly clear how even after all that sober time, just one pornographic image — like one drink for an alcoholic — is too much for me. I put on the Southern Miss t-shirt I bought in Hattiesburg for strength and walked my HD box back to the cable store, telling them to cancel everything. I'd smash my beloved iPhone with a hammer a few days later. Rehab is full of slogans, and "going to any lengths" is perhaps the most poignant for me. Most mistakes I've made in recovery I can trace back to not being willing to completely take myself out of harm's way while I'm still so new to this process. I'm not going to lie and tell you I've been clean since then; it's been a hard, bumpy road. But I'm working my ass off, finding out how amazingly good sobriety can feel if I work at it every day. And believe me, if I ever get cable again, Mark Cuban's channel is the first one getting blocked.

Artwork by Jim Cooke

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EARLIER:

Part 1: On The Gentle Path, Too: A Dispatch From The Front Lines Of Sex Addiction
Part 2: A Return From Gentle Path: The Humiliation Of A Sex Addict In Rehab