INTERVIEW WITH ERICA GARZA ON DEALING WITH PORN ADDICTION, TRAUMA AND HEALING

Erica Garza is a writer whose jaw dropping book, Getting off, recounts her experiences and journey through porn and sex addiction. Her book has caught the attention of a lot of people and helped other women. Her ability to bravely talk about her journey especially on a topic that many people shy away from is phenomenal.

Read our interview with her below.

 

When did your journey to porn addiction start?

I started masturbating and watching porn when I was twelve. Because nobody had ever talked to me about sex, I found these discoveries both thrilling and shameful. But, of course, I didn’t want to stop because I enjoyed myself. What shifted these sexual activities into compulsions was that not long after I started masturbating and watching porn, I was diagnosed with scoliosis and outfitted with a metal back brace for two years. I remember thinking that the scoliosis was a result of all the masturbating I’d been doing, but I kept that suspicion a secret. I became incredibly withdrawn and insecure and tried not to draw attention to myself at school, so the other kids wouldn’t notice me or bully me, but the other kids noticed me and they bullied me and the only comfort I knew to reach for was to masturbate and watch more porn. When I was trying to achieve orgasm, all of my worries just melted away, and I came to rely on sexual release as an escape route. Any time I feel that I may have lost interest or developed healthier ways of dealing with problems, internet speeds went up and I could escape over and over again.

 

Do you think porn is unhealthy?

I think it’s possible to use porn in an unhealthy way, but I’m not sure that I would call porn unhealthy on its own. I think it’s even possible that a person can watch a lot of porn and not necessarily become addicted. Since every addict acts out in a different way, it’s up to each person to take a hard look at how and why they use porn if they have a feeling it may be getting in the way of their happiness or productivity.

 

There is a lot of stigmatisation, shame and judgement that is automatically rendered when porn is mentioned or when some people watch porn. Do you think this has a negative effect on the positive effects of porn – if any?

Absolutely. When I look back at my journey with porn, the most destructive part of my addiction was the shame. In my earliest experiences of masturbating and watching porn, I remember feeling like I was doing something wrong and bad. I remember thinking that if anyone found out what I was doing, they would think I was disgusting. The pleasure I found became intertwined with this feeling of shame so that the two were inseparable. Later, I found that I had to watch the kind of porn that produced this same feeling in me–mostly misogynistic and degrading porn–to get turned on. And then I found that that was affecting the types of sexual experiences I subjected myself to, where men made me feel used and worthless.

 

Do you think porn has positive effect in our sexual lives?

I think porn can have positive effects in our sexual lives. It can help a person explore a side of their sexuality they’ve felt uncomfortable exploring in their lives and it can even rebuild intimacy in a relationship that is suffering. Of course, this can work both ways. A person might end up becoming desensitized and end up needing more explicit, hardcore, or even violent scenes. It can also hinder intimacy in a relationship. It’s all about finding balance and noticing when you may be taking it too far.

 

At what point did you realize you needed help?

People often ask me what my low point was or my “bottom,” the thing that finally forced me to turn my life around, but I can’t identify a moment like that. My addiction never took me to a place where I lost a marriage or career, or something I truly treasured. For me, it was a gradual realization. I got to my late twenties and had sabotaged yet another relationship and I realized that there were patterns in my life that I couldn’t ignore, and they were mostly centered around sex and porn. A partner had once mentioned to me that I might be a sex addict and I never wanted to believe him, but it started to become clear to me that he was probably right. I knew that if I kept going down this path and making the same mistakes, I’d probably always feel lonely, stuck, and unhappy. I needed to do something different.

 

How did you start seeking for help?

My 30th birthday was coming up and I’d just read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, so I decided to take a trip to Bali. I wanted this new decade to be better than the last. When I got there, I was on a mission to focus on self-care. I practiced yoga, meditated, and just started paying attention to the mess that was going on in my head, and retracing how I’d gotten to this place in my life. I was in this clear-headed space when I met a fellow traveler on the same path, but in recovery for drug addiction. He was the first person that I confessed that I may be a sex and porn addict to, and he didn’t run away. It felt so refreshing to be vulnerable and honest with another person and it became clear that this was something I needed to be working on and talking about. That’s when things slowly started shifting–I went to my first-ever SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) meetings, I sought therapy, and I began writing about my addiction, which was also a key part of my healing process.

 

It’s not always easy to identify the reason for addictions or certain patterns. It’s like you know you need help but don’t know how or what to do? How can people identify these issues?

If you feel like you have an issue with sex and porn, you may try a SLAA meeting to start. Or see a therapist. The same goes for a person who suspects they have an issue with compulsive drinking or drugs–go to an AA meeting or NA meeting, or find a therapist. Whether you choose to continue going to meetings or working the steps, they’re a good start because they allow you to start talking about what’s going on in your life. I don’t think anything fuels addiction more than silence and shame and being able to talk about these things in a safe space with like-minded people can be enormously helpful. If you don’t like the idea of going to meetings, then finding a therapist you’re comfortable talking to can offer the same kind of safe space.

 

Mental health I believe plays a huge role in everything that happens and a lot of time our backgrounds, family, culture and environment contribute to the way a lot of people turn out and behave.Some of these experiences are painful. What role did pain play in your life on this journey and how did you begin to embrace healing.

In digging into my earliest memories of using porn and masturbating compulsively, I was able to explore why I’d reached for these things in the first place and how I’d come to rely on them. It was clear to me that I was grappling with insecurity and fear of rejection when I first started using sexual pleasure as a crutch. Socially, I felt rejected at school because I was bullied due to my scoliosis and back brace. At home, I felt rejected because of the arrival of my younger sister, so I felt like I was losing my parents’ attention when I needed them most. There were also bigger issues at play. I felt insecure as a Mexican-American growing up in what felt like a white world (all the TV shows I watched and books I read focused on white characters, not Mexicans). I felt insecure as a girl in a family of Latin machismo and a culture that lets “boys be boys” when girls need to be good and virginal and pure. There are a number of things I could point to as reasons for why I would feel out-of-place or inferior and to make me insecure and anxious–they all played a role in why I wanted to escape.

 

How did you break free from negative cultural and family patterns, abuse and trauma?

I should make clear here that the common narrative about women who are addicted to sex and porn is that they must have been abused, but this narrative is not always the case and it wasn’t the case for me. While I was bullied in school and probably not given as much attention as I needed at home, I think of this more as ordinary trauma. I still knew that I was loved and safe at home and it’s an important distinction to make. The most helpful work I did on understanding my patterns and developing healthier ones was called the Hoffman Process. This is a 7-day retreat in which you identify your positive and negative patterns, trace how you learned them in childhood and from who, work on extending compassion to your caregivers and to yourself, and learn how to implement healthier patterns in your life. It was after this retreat that I started writing about my journey through sex addiction.

 

Are there dark moments when you feel down? How do you rise above those and what does it feel like?

Like any other human being on the planet, I certainly have dark moments! The difference now is that I no longer try to escape them as much. I know how ineffective it is to run and that they’ll just come back up. Instead of bingeing on porn or drinking too much or cheating on my husband or anything else that I may have done in my past, I get curious. I try to figure out what’s scaring me or stressing me out, let myself feel that, and then find ways to work through it. I talk about these things and I write about these things as much as I can instead of pushing them down or pretending.

 

As a woman, sexual liberation is quite empowering especially in a patriarchal and misogynistic society and culture. How did porn make you feel in this regard?

I was always in conflict about whether or not I should feel empowered by watching porn. While I mostly felt bad about the type of porn I watched, since it was usually misogynistic, I often felt open-minded and liberated when I would tell partners that I watched porn because I was trying to show them that I was like them–I liked sex too. But I rarely watched the type of porn with them that I watched on my own. I was too ashamed. Now, as a person who considers myself a sex-positive, shame-free person, I don’t criticize that type of porn as much as I used to. I think human sexuality is diverse and I think anyone should express themselves however they see fit as long as they are not hurting or taking advantage of somebody. And I think if a woman wants to make what is considered “misogynistic” porn, then she should have the right to do that. And if a woman gets turned on by that kind of porn (and Pornhub stats will tell you that women are more turned on by hardcore porn than men), I think she also has the right to do that. In that sense, I feel much more empowered and open-minded now about how I view porn than I ever did in the past.

 

With patriarchal mindsets imbibed in the society and some homes, some women struggle in embracing and owning their bodies. How can women rise above patriarchal culture and backgrounds, break free from mental confinements and embrace their bodies and identity?

If more women talked about sex–what they like, what they don’t like–without shame or fear of judgement, then we’ll start to break through the stigma and misconceptions about women and sex that hold us back from truly being liberated and empowered. The Virgin/whore dichotomy is still very much alive and women are still not talking about sex as openly as they can be, but I do think this is slowly changing. We seem to be in a cultural moment where women are talking about things they’ve previously kept silent. Progress is happening, but it needs fuel.

 

What was your experience like in facing the root cause of the addiction, growing and healing through it?

Relieving. I understand myself more, I’m more compassionate towards myself and people in my past, and I simply feel like a happier, more productive, more sane person. Shame doesn’t rule my life anymore and I am still a sexually experimental and positive person, but I no longer need to feel bad to feel good.

 

Is porn underrated?

I think we don’t discuss the difficult grey areas as much as we should–you’re either pro-porn and think porn addiction is some sex-negative, invented bullshit spread by religious fanatics, or you’re anti-porn and you want to take down the industry. I’m a recovered porn addict and I still watch porn and I think that’s a hard thing for people to understand. They think that because I used to binge on porn that I have to stay away from it forever like an alcoholic should stay away from drinking, but that’s not authentic to me. Because I don’t rely on porn to escape my problems, I can watch it because I want to, not because I need to. It took time to achieve that kind of balance, but it is possible.

 

Where can we get your book?

You can get my book through my publisher (http://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/Getting-Off/Erica-Garza/9781501163371) or via Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Getting-Off-Journey-Through-Addiction/dp/150116337X)

 

How did writing your story feel like and what inspired it?

I always turned to writing as a source of comfort, so originally I started writing about this topic to simply understand myself more. But it was always a private activity. When I published my first essay on sex addiction back in 2014, I was newly in recovery and experimenting with what it felt like to reveal these secrets publicly. The messages I received from men and women across the world thanking me for helping them feel less alone and ashamed made me want to write the book and spread my story to reach as many people as I could.

 

Did you feel shame, fear or anxious when you started thinking about writing your book on your experiences?

I was less worried about what strangers would think and more concerned with people who knew me, especially my parents. But I’ve been grateful for the response I did receive, which has been overwhelmingly positive. I think my parents understood that writing this book was a huge part of healing and they were supportive of that.

 

How did you deal with negative feeling and patterns that try to knock you down?

I’m gentle on myself and extremely compassionate. I remember who I was when I was 12 years old and what she needed–someone to give her attention and love. And then I give that to myself.

 

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