Sept. 7, 2022

Erica Garza - One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction | Trauma Healing Coach

Join us for FREE, Unbroken Conference at: Do women struggle with porn addiction? In this episode, I speak with Erica Garza the author of the memoir, Getting Off:...
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Do women struggle with porn addiction?

In this episode, I speak with Erica Garza the author of the memoir, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, and we are going to talk about how porn is negatively impacting your brain, health, life and the insightful aspects of the healing journey.

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Transcript

Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation. Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode with my guest Erica Garza, who is the author of the Memoir Getting Off: A Woman's Journey through sex and porn addiction. Erica, I'm very excited to have you on the show today.How are you, my friend?

Erica: I am good. Thank you for having me on.

Michael:it's literally my pleasure. So, before we started recording, I mentioned that through a mutual friend, Paul Gilmartin and his podcast, mental illness happy hour, we connected. I first recall, I believe if I remember correctly, I was in a mall in Vietnam, listening to Paul's podcast when you came on.And I was in that mall, like I was trying to like go and buy shoes or something which is impossible to do in Vietnam when you have size 13 feet, by the way. AndI just sat down in the food court and I listened to the entire interview that you had because I was struck by the vulnerability, by the honesty, by the truth and by the fact that like, nobody fucking talks about what you were talking about, especially not even four or five years ago. And so, that said before we dive in and we get into the nitty gritty of this, tell us a little bit about your backstory and how you got to where you are today?

Erica:It's funny, you mentioned Paul Gilmartin that interview was my very first interview.So, I was so nervous giving it, so I'm flattered that you know, you were struck by it and listened to the whole thing, because I thought it was a mess at the time. I was very nervous and I can't believe that was four years ago. But I was on that show, invited to be on that show because I had written a book called Getting Off One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction.And as you said, this is a topic that most people, weren't talking about, especially in to women. And so, I really felt like it was an opportunity for me to speak about a difficult topic, that would help other people feel more seen and less invisible and less ashamed, and also help me heal. Writing has always been a process appealing for me. So, writing that book about my addiction was a way to, you know, begin my recovery or I guess, progress in my recovery. So,that's why I was on the show.

Michael:Yeah. That's Fascinating. I'm glad he invited you because I feel like that that was a really interesting moment for me, having realized as I've gone through and done the work in my own life, that exposure to porn at such a young age was like seven years old the first time I saw itreally kind of shaped me. And why don't we start, take us back to Erica's childhood and your experience of growing up and where you grew up?

Erica: Okay. Yeah. So, I grew up in Montebello, which is a Southeast area of LA it's very predominantly Latino neighborhood so, my family was Mexican American, Catholic.And I say that because most other Mexican Americans who are raised Catholic, know what I mean about like, nobody talks about sex. It's just like off the table, something super dirty and shameful and the messages I was getting at home was that this is something, we don't talk about it's that bad.And then at school I was getting the message, that sex was something that happened between a man and a woman who loved each other for one reason, making babies, there was no expansion on that idea. And so, when I started to have sexual urges and thoughts, which is around, I'd say 10, you know, I was attracted to boys and girls, and so I thought, okay, well, you know, that's not part of the story. And then my first entry into sexual experiences was masturbation that also wasn't something they were talking about. So, I was always getting these messages that what I was feeling and what I was doing was something wrong and bad and as a result, I was wrong and bad. As a child, I mean, I would say I was mostly happy and I had a stable upbringing and it's important for me to always point that out because I think a lot of people assume when you have an addiction that you have this really traumatic upbringing and something, you know, horrible preceded this a lot of times when it's a woman, they assume sexual abuse preceded this. So, I always make it very clear from the beginning that that was not my case, you know, I had a two person household, we were upper middle class family, I went to private schools and vacation and all that stuff, it was quite normal on the surface. What changed that normalcy for me wasn't just the discovery of sex and feeling ashamed because I think most people would be able to relate to that. But I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 12 and I had to wear a back brace to school. So, I became incredibly, disgusted with my body, introverted, afraid that everybody was gonna make fun of me.And I think because I was so afraid of that, I kind of brought it on, I attracted it, I made myself a sort of target for bullies and so, I started to get bullied badly at school. And my answer to that, because I had already discovered masturbation was to just do it more and more and more. And that gave me a really nice relief and, you know, escape from all the feelings or all the thoughts in my head, because I could just sort of zone into my body and feel sensations instead but the problem with that is that when, you know, the orgasm would occur and you know, all of that was gone, then I would be stuck with all those feelings again. So, then I would just have to reach for masturbation again. So, it became this sort of emotional crutch and this defense or escape mechanism that became incredibly hard to pull away from, especially when I discovered porn.And I didn't discover it as early as you at seven, I discovered it around 12 with like late-night cinema so it was really mild stuff but you know, it was in the late nineties, so the internet was coming out and all of that was about to change suddenly. I would have much harder, clicked to look at you know, pictures were easier to download, streaming websites came along.So, I feel like anytime I would've had the chance to maybe lose interest in porn and, you know, deal with my problems in another way, I just had new gratifying, enticing material to pull me back in. And that became really hard to escape.

Michael:One of the things that I think about all the time is the influence of the internet and this kind of addiction, especially. And you know, many people are walking around their phones are just mobile porn devices like let's call it what it is. And There is this thing that I think most people don't recognize this happening. I don't know if this would be true for you so I'm gonna create context here. Being exposed to it so young, what happened was, and the irony is I'm wearing a Mickey mouse shirt, this was not planned, so let me be clear about this, that's so funny. I was getting ready to watch a Disney movie. My uncle, who was in prison had been home for a period of time and I grabbed the tape thinking it's a Disney movie, put it in the VCR to age myself.And it was poured and I was just entranced because I didn't understand what was happening, I didn't really know what I was looking at. And I remember my grandmother coming out of her bedroom at some point could have been an hour, it could have been five minutes I have no idea and freaking out.And instead of explaining to me and talking to me about what happened, it was like, throw that thing away, don't ever talk about this, it's never happened. And then as I went through childhood and dealing with things like bullying and all of that stuff, it became not only a defensive mechanism for me to dive into that stuff, but also it was soothing. It was a place of safety for lack of a better word and I think that's a thing that people don't understand, especially when you're dissociated. Right. When you were going into these moments, what was happening in your mind? Like, were you cognizant of your actions? Was it, were you just on Lala land?Like, what was that experience like for you?

Erica:Yeah, it was more like turning a switch off on mybrain because I would have all of these like worries and thoughts and visualizations of like people teasing me or me doing something humiliating or my parents finding out what I was doing or my parents not being proud of me, like all that stuff and I still have a very, very anxious mind. But I would be able to turn that off and just think about having an orgasm, it gave me something very concrete to work towards where everything else fell away that was the most important thing in the world. And then I have the orgasm and of course, there's thatTerry, you know, post orgasm glow for a little bit, and then it'd be like, oh shit, I have to face all this stuff again, you know, and that just perpetuated a cycle. But I agree with you that it is like a feeling of safety too, because I remember feeling like it was mine, you know, it was like this thing that was mine and nobody was going to be able to take it.Like I was in control of this experience and nobody can take it from me. So, there was a sort of like ownership over that and like a glimmer of power, which is complicated, you know, because it's like, I felt out of control, like not being able to stop, I would try to talk myself into stopping, but then at the same time, I like didn't want to stop because it was nine, you know, it was like sacred to me.

Michael:It's really interesting what you said about control because my brain went to thinking about, okay, we're getting bullied all the time. You're out of control and that's the one area in which you're like, I own it. So, in my mind, that makes perfect sense, especially now understanding my own experience better.So, you're in high school right around this time, you're probably going through this. How was this affecting your mental health? Like, were you aware of the addiction?

Erica: I always thought that I had a problem from the very, very beginning.

Michael: Interesting. Why did you think that?

Erica: Because nobody was talking about it.I mean, I think that secrecy breeds shame and so nobody was talking about it, then it had to be something bad. And the only thing that I remember my mom hates when I say this in interviews, butone time I remember driving by a local high school and there being a pregnant girl, walking to school and my mom pointing, and this is like the only thing she ever said about sex growing up She pointed at the pregnant girl and said, don't ever let that happen to you and then pointed to my crotch and was like, don't let anybody ever touch you down there. So, I figured any, and that was, I was quite young when that happened and I remember thinking like, oh, okay, this area of my body is just like this terrifying thing, that's going to just drive everyone away and, you know, and break me and disappoint my parents. So, of course, any sensations that arose out of that area were going to be off limits. But this happened earlier than high school, so this is like 12, when I discovered the porn. And even those like primary urges of wanting to masturbate and have sex as normal as they were at that time like in retrospect, I think like, okay, yeah, like raising hormones that like new experiences, of course I wanted to do it all the time, it doesn't mean it was an addiction. But I remember at the time thinking like I'm out of control, like this is something so bad but then feeling like I couldn't stop. And I do think it switched over to something problematic when I said I had the scoliosis and I started to lean on it as an escape instead of facing those issues or talking to somebody about it. I just went through that and that became a habit, that was hard to break.

Michael:Yeah. And that makes a lot of sense. And I think, especially in this context andthe age in which we were growing up, cuz we're not that far removed in age here. I think about how incredibly impossible it felt to have that kind of conversation where the guilt and shame that would like be created in my head would be so overwhelming and be like well, you know, I'll just go watch porn again. It'll be fine. And Then that turns into this chaos where now fast forward jump up a couple of years out of high school, like trying to exist in the world. And it's like, how do you exist when you're facing that demon every single day? And so, what I'm curious about is what's the evolution of this?Like, what does life start looking like as you get older, as you start dating relationships, intimacy, trying to figure out who you are, being on your own in the world, experiencing Erica.

Erica:Yeah.I think the biggest negative effect it had on me just besides all of like the dangerous situations I put myself in physically, mentally,was just isolating a lot.I mean, I felt unworthy of friendship, I always felt like this was gonna be something people found out about me. And I would be, you know, sent off to an island somewhere like everybody would turn away from me and I would be completely isolated anyway, but I isolated myself first so that other people wouldn't reject me.So, I guess that's kind of like a dissents people do right, I don't wanna be rejected so I'm just gonna like, not even try. So, I did that a lot with the masturbating and with the porn. I just kind of like, that was my thing, I'd rather lock myself up in a bedroom and stay by myself and do these things than like try out and make friends or like you know, like just be social,because I was so afraid and so filled with self-hatred. And I didn't start dating until end of high school, I had very limited access to boys and men because I went to Catholic school, all-girls school when I was in high school. But because I had been watching porn for a long time, I had all of these built-up ideas about what those experiences were gonna be like and I had lots of fantasies and was like always waiting for the day that some guy was gonna show me attention, and then I was gonna ride off into the sunset together with him. And so that didn't happen until I was like a senior in high school, I met somebody who was much older than me, and I could act out those things and I felt like once I opened that door, it was just like a damn broke free, you know, like I could just like, okay, this is what I've been waiting for. And now I'm just gonna go after it and nonstop. And so, going after men or like trying to get their attention and having sex and all having relationships just became like another addiction, it just became like, I didn't stop the porn, I would do both. So, it became pretty impossible not to have an orgasm, you know, waiting for me in the wigs, it was like either I was gonna do it at home, or I was gonna find some guy to do that with. And I just found myself in this sort of like, cycle of like, just nonstop searching and trying to fill this hole that was empty, but never feeling like I was successfully feeling it and constantly searching and constantly wanting and feeling insatiable and incomplete and lonely at the same time, it didn't matter how many partners I had. I still felt incredibly lonely in their presence, I think because I was just not really being myself, I was allowing myself to be an object and portray the most sexy version of myself, you know, that I thought they wanted and kind of reenacting themes I saw on TV or on my laptop. And so, it went a lot of years of feeling quite isolated and alone.

Michael: Yeah. Andit does that too. Right? And the deeper you get into it, the more isolating it becomes. And when I've sat and I read your book, the thing that I felt most connected around or the dangerous situations that you were putting yourself in also in the vulnerability of the willingness to share those because when I go look at this window of basically like 17 to 26 years old, and it was just chaos. I mean chaos in a way where I reflect on it, sometimes I think how the fuck was that even possible? And I feel so removed from who that version of me was, you know, through doing the work and doing the healing, but, you know, there was something about, and I don't know if this held true for you or not, but there was something about stepping onto the precipice of the cliff of whatever impending doom that awaited me at the bottom that just made it even better.

Erica:Yeah, absolutely. I think it's the adrenaline rush for me, it was the adrenaline rush, like going after something bad or dangerous, gave me a much more intense sensation of excitement and not knowing what was gonna happen than doing something expected and good for me. And I could still tell, like now, and we'll get into this maybe later, but like,I'm not against porn, you know, I consider myself very sexually empowered open-minded person. And so, I still consider myself experimental all this kind of stuff, it's taken me awhile to get to this point, which I think is really healthy. But when I feel like I might be treading into that territory, I can tell the difference right away if I'm getting that adrenaline feeling, heart racing, I know that it's probably a bad choice I'm about to make other than like I'm making this choice and it feels good. I don't feel any guilt or shame or anything about it, then I know, okay, yeah, this is healthy I could make this choice. And that's a really fine distinction to make because on the surface, you know, those experiences can look the same like maybe my husband and I are going to have this sexual experience with somebody else. Right. And I can tell, am I doing that because like, something's going on bad between me and my husband, and I'll have that feeling or are we doing that because we just wanna do something exciting together and like sexually adventurous and that can be healthy as well. It's really important for me to have gotten to this point where I can tell the difference now, whether, you know, I'm heading down that path and it's gonna be a rocky one or not.

Michael:Yeah, and I think so for me, so much of that, being able to navigate that experience comes with the safety of communication with the person that I'm with, but also with myself and being really fucking honest about like, what is happening in my life right now. I want to go deeper onto this side, but I really wanna track back for a moment. Where did writing come into this for you? Like just in general, and I'm curious, because for me, I put myself as a writer first, I've always been a writer, I started writing as a kid, it became this place for me to create safety for the experiences that I was having, and also places like write out these crazy fantasies and shit like that, which might have been precursor. I don't know if that's necessarily the greatest thing that I ever did, but what role did that play and was there a healing element to it for you?

Erica:Absolutely. And just like you, I started writing when I was really young. And I still have journals, can't see you with my bookshelf right now, but I mean, I have them all lined up from age seven all the way until like 30 years old. And it was really important for me to keep the journal and record my experiences and in the same way that I just talked about masturbating for the first time, it was something that was mine and private. And you know, it was a place where I can say the things that I would never utter, allowed I can be authentic and be myself and it was always a way for me to figure things out, to get whatever was happening in my head onto the paper. And, I used it my whole life and I have my MFA in writing, I always wanted to be a professional writer, I never knew that I was gonna be writing about this professionally when I was a young kid, but I mean, when I started writing about this topic, it was at the early stages of my recovery. And at that point I was already sort of revealing to other people like in 12 step meetings and to my husband that I thought I might be a sex addict.And so, writing about it was a much more public revealing and when I did that, I received so much mail from people who were going through the same thing and we're really glad that somebody was talking about these things because they thought that they were going through it all alone, just like I had felt all those years.So, I really felt like I had an opportunity to, to help them out and then just hearing from them helped me feel more connected and disconnected is what I had felt for so many years. And so, to finally be able to just tell the truth, like say these really scary things and have the connection I longed for all along was huge for me. And so, I knew that I needed to keep writing about this, so that essay, it started with an essay in 2014 and that turned into, I ended up getting a book deal just off that essay and decided to write this book because that's how big the response was and it was definitely a conversation that we needed to be having.

Michael:When you were like in real time, cuz in my head, what I'm going through is I recall these moments of like I'd put myself in this incredibly dangerous situation. Right. Anddanger doesn't necessarily mean like physical danger, like in like the exact moment of it but like the repercussions that come along with the activity could be deemed dangerous.And I would like,get myself in this situation, have the experience, go home, write about it and look at it and just be like, dude, what the fuck is wrong with you? And what I'm wondering here is when you were in the throes of this, before it turned into healing, what was the conversation you were having with yourself on those pages?

Erica:What was the conversation I was having? I think, I was honestly, I was hoping that I was gonna look back one day and see what I was doing as something that was really cool and adventurous and it was some, you know, like at the time I may have felt bad and you know, bad about myself and ashamed but at the same time, I had this idea what an adventurous life would be like. And I hoped that in looking back, I would say, oh yeah, those things weren't so bad, it was fun and hopefully forget the negative sides of it and just say, well, look at this marvelous messy life I had.

Michael:You know, I look at my experiences, I go, okay. The thing that I needed to create change in my life, which I feel unfortunately applies to most people, especially after having been doing this for so many years, is that inevitable rock bottom moment. Was there a moment for you in this journey where you were just like, holy shit, this is taken over my life?

Erica:I'm so glad you're asking this because I don't think there was a rock bottom for me. And I think a lot of people think that that's the case, but with sex eviction, it can be quite hard to reach a rock bottom, you know, I didn't lose all of my money or like my health wasn't in like direct danger you know, a doctor didn't tell me something, I had to stop drinking, or I have to stop taking those pills because you know, XYZ is gonna happen. It was more of like, a voice in my head that got louder and louder over the years, like noticing your relationships are ending up at the same place. You still feel lonely and disconnected what has to change, something has to change. And so, I saw my 30th birthday on the horizon and I thought to and I just ended another relationship over like a blow job like just something really stupid. And I thought, you know, I don't want this next decade to be like the last ones but I want something to change here.And I have this habit of whenever I'd be in a relationship and it started to matter and I started to care about the person or feel cared forI would push it away and sabotage a relationship because I didn't feel worthy of it, but I also was so scared of becoming too attached and then losing it and you know, what that aftermath was gonna feel like. So as much more prone to choosing the lighthearted, no strings attached thing that I can walk away from anytime I wanted. And that just left me feeling sad, like wondering what love was like, if that was ever gonna happen for me. And so, yeah, I saw my 30th birthday and it was kind of just like a decision, like something has to change, I'm gonna change, you know, I'm gonna do something different.

Michael: One of the things I think about often, because having a very similar experience was wanting to push away people so that I could stay isolated because that's where I felt safe. And when they got close, I was like, Nope, fuck this. Let me destroy this real fast.What was that like a reconciliation for you? Like where did you come to that conclusion?

Erica:That I should push people away?

Michael:Yeah.

Erica:Yeah, I guess just scared of loss and of just being found out and like somebody else confirming for me, my worst fears about myself, somebody else saying, well, yeah, you are pathetic.Yeah. You are like, I've found out who you really are now and it isn't just as terrible as you think it is. I guess, in pushing people away, I could have them imagining and hoping that I was a better person than I thought I was and if I didn't tell them too much about me, that they could live with this like perfect fantasy in their head of who I might be without ever confirming it for them.

Michael:Yeah. And then that kind of leaves you on a ship of one, right?  And I just relate to that so much. So, you have an interesting story of vulnerability around meeting your husband and about sharing this truth kind of early on. I would love if you share that with the audience, because I think one of the really insightful aspects of the healing journey that I've discovered is to own your truth.And I'd love if you would dive into that a little bit.

Erica:Sure. So, like I said that my 30th birthday was coming up, I had just read the book, eat, pray, love, and I thought I'm gonna have the same kind of, you know, one woman adventure. And so, I went off to Bali and Ubud where she was staying, which I think you were there too, right?I'm sure you'll say that after. So, I went off toUbudand I just started doing yoga and meditating and all this stuff, it's like a place where a lot of people are into like, new age experiences and all this kind of stuff. And what was great about that was that my internet connection was really bad.So, I didn't have direct access to porn like I usually had, or it was much slower and plus I was just doing all these different things with my body that were just as gratifying and that's also important for breaking habits. And I had already had this intention in my mind that I was gonna do things differently.I didn't wanna meet any guys. I didn't wanna pick anyone up, I just wanted to work on me, figure my shit out. But while I was in that sort of like open-minded space, I met my husband who was on his similar journey, he was recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and sort of on the same sort of mission, not trying to meet anyone, just trying to heal and figure stuff out.But we met anyway and we had an instant connection, which scared me right away, I tried to run away, but I kept running back into him. And so, I thought, okay, let's see what this is all about. And at the beginning, I mean, I would say like, we fell pretty quickly into a relationship, but because I had been so accustomed to holding back, I knew where that was gonna lead like I found myself having those tendencies of holding back, holding back, and then I thought, you know, what, if I do that, it's gonna end up the way it always ends up. And so, my biggest fear had always been people finding out who I really am. Right. Like finding out these dark things about myself, my past, all this stuff and I just thought I'm just gonna put it all on the table and see what happens. And so, I told him, he's the first person I said that I might be a sex addict and a porn addict too.

Michael: The first person ever?

Erica:Ever, yeah. And he can’t run away, you know, he wanted to hear more and that was huge for me, just being accepted for saying something so honest, something that I thought would drive anybody away. And I felt such a relief from doing that and then we just connected even more deeply, by sharing that about myself, he was able to share stuff about himself and then we just got to a much more deeper level than I had ever been with anyone pretty quickly.And of course like any new relationship, there were ups and downs along the way, but we always had this path with each other to be completely honest, as messy as it was as dangerous as the territories need to go into nothing was off the table for us, we were gonna cover it all. And I think that's the only way to grow with somebody and to have a deeper connection is to just have those messy conversations. And I think in being brave enough, it really got us to a place where we can both heal to get there. Like be on our own paths of healing, but have a partner along the way, which, you know, we could lean on when we needed to.

Michael:Yeah. And we need that, especially if you've spent all this time being isolated, right?All this time in your own head, all this time in the pages of the notebook. Right. And in that, I think one of the most beautiful aspects of it is that level of vulnerability. I don't know if this is true, so I don't wanna put words in your mouth, but for me, I found freedom in it because I was like, oh shit, I can finally be me to the world, to this person, to the tens of thousands of people who are gonna listen to this.Right. Was there an emotional release for this? Was this a pivotal turning point for you? And the reason I'm stepping into this is because so many people carry these secrets and they have these skeletons in the closet and I have come to find time and again, that.So, I'll give you a context around a story quickly. I once had a therapist tell me I was having this continual nightmare every night for 15 years, literally every night it was Freddy Krueger murdering my mother. And I'm talking to my therapist one day and I finally tell him, I'm like, I gotta tell you this, I've never told anybody this ever before. And I tell him this story and he goes, you know, darkness can't stay dark when you bring it to light. And I was like, that's really interesting. And I kind of made it a point from that moment to, in the right circumstances, cuz you don't wanna vomit your shit on the world, in the right circumstances to step into the willingness to have vulnerable and really scary conversations and I found freedom in it. And what I'm wondering is what did you find in it?

Erica:Relief and I guess the freedom to finally be myself and say the scary things and connect with people better. I mean, because I was able to say those things, he felt that he could say things as well. I think that that's another important part of it is that we both felt free.And one only one of us, you know, took the first chance like I'm gonna take this conversation to the next level, I'm gonna take this relationship to the next level and go really deep and I think that we can do that in so many instances. It doesn't have to be a romantic scenario. I mean, sometimes I'll meet somebody at a party and you know, we're having the usual chit chat.And luckily, because I've written about this publicly and people can, you know, we can kind of go into that area quite quickly, cuz people will ask, you know, what do you do? I'm a writer. What do you write about? And it's like, I always have this choice of like, do I really tell them what I write about or not. And I will often I'll take the chance, but it's like, okay, yeah, like here's what I write about. And you know, sometimes they'll get the like, oh, okay, let's change a subject very rarely though. Most of the time people will be like, oh, you know, I wanna talk to talk about that and they'll ask more questions and then they'll feel like they have permission to talk about something they haven't really been able to talk about with somebody else.And it was because I took that first chance of like, let's take it there. And I think that's just so important and we need more of that because it allows people to just be real and I don't know, I feel like when we open up more and there's so much, it's such a healthier way to relate to people is when you can feel like, okay, I can just be myself here, I don't have to put up this mask in this shield. That's boring anyway, you know, it's much more interesting to go to those places. And so, yeah, like after I had told him that I did feel free to sort of keep talking about this and be myself. And so, it was really like a turning point career wise as well, like healing, because I can go to 12 step meetings, I started going to therapy, I did something called the Hoffman process and all of that is about revealing, revealing, revealing, talking about all that stuff, excavating all the trauma that was still there under the surface. But also career wise, yeah, I started writing about this as well which led to the book and then suddenly I could be on interviews and I was on the today show, like all these things where it just became much more public and I can really like be out there  as you know, for anyone to see anyone to Google me and find like, whoa, this girl's talking about this thing, you know, and I'm not blurring my face and that's such a relief, you know, because it's like, oh, well, if everybody has found this out about me, there's nothing else, terrible for them to find out about. Like I'm just gonna keep on saying it, nobody can hurt me then, you know, I always felt like, oh, I have to be so careful on all this stuff and now I feel like, oh, it doesn't matter, I can give up all that effort and refocus my energies towards something else.

Michael:Yeah. I relate to that so much. It's like that fucking eight-mile scene if I just put it all out there, you have no energy, you have nothing you can throw at me. And so, you know, there's a level of vulnerability, I will say like publicly doing things like we do, I don't know is for everyone but for the select few, it definitely is a very interesting journey. In your pivot this moment of like, okay, I'm facing these addictions, I'm going to 12 step, I'm sure you probably did SLA and things like that. What became the differentiating factor for you of, okay, I feel like I'm stuck in this, I'm addicted, like using that word specifically to what you mentioned a few moments ago like you go, yeah, sometimes I still watch porn. I have these sexual experiences with my husband.Was that about ownership? Was it about free like talk me through that‘cause I would really love to understand it deeper?

Erica: Yeah, at the beginning of my recovery, when I first started going to the 12 step meetings and admitting, you know, this is probably an addiction I needed help and all that. I remember thinking, yeah, I had to put myself in this box and being only in monogamous relationship, never watch porn again, all of these very strict rules, I placed by myself. And I think that was necessary for a while because it allowed me to, you know, analyze my patterns, develop some healthier habits, you know, all that kind of stuff, which I needed to do, I needed to take a break from the habits that were no longer serving me in order to forge the new ones. But after a while, I started to feel like that wasn't really what I wanted to be. Like, I still had the urges to be sexually experimental like I said, like my husband and I, we had talked about, you know, maybe like going to a swinger’s resort and this stuff, which I ended up being invited to.And I remember thinking at the time, like, is this gonna throw me off? And it's gonna be a slippery slope and suddenly I'll be addicted again and my life will fall apart, all that kind of like fear. But then I wondered, could I find a way to have a sexually open-minded; sexually open-minded experiences without letting it ruin me without being destructive. How do you find that balance? And that took some time, but like I said, it was more about self-awareness like, am I making the choice? Because it's giving me that rush of like, oh, this is so bad, and you know, I'm gonna, like, I might do something destructive and like, that's exciting, I don't know all that kind of like toxic excitement or am I doing this because, and with healthy communication with my husband, like, am I doing this because we can do it and we can talk about it and it could be safe and we can have boundaries and like have a healthier relationship to it.And I think that's a really fine distinction to make, but it's also a healthy place for us to be and feels much more authentic to me as well. And, you know, I started to look back on my past and say that maybe shame was actually the more toxic part of it, that was the driving force of my addiction, for sure.I wondered if I had just felt okay, making some of those decisions at the beginning of my sexual experiences, if I just had ownership then and felt less ashamed, maybe it wouldn't have gone to the places that it went to, maybe I would've always had help relationship to it.

And I think a lot of people ask me, you know, how do I know if I'm an addict?Like, is it if I watch porn every day, does that mean I'm an addict? If I have more than 50 partners, am I an addict? And I say, you can't really measure it that way. It's only for you to know. Are you like neglecting your relationships? Is it taking you to a place that's destructive? Do you feel out of control?Those are the questions you need to ask yourself, not how sexual you are like if you're doing those things and you're still maintaining a healthy mental state and healthy relationships, then it isn't, you know, it probably isn't an addiction and that's only for each person to decide for themselves.And like I said, it took me a while to get there, but I do think this is a better place for me to be.

Michael:Yeah. That's fascinating. You just pissed off so many puritans.I think, you're spot on because the truth about it, and I think this applies across the board to like, whatever that thing is in your life.Many times, we are more addicted to the secret than we are to the action. Right. And that's something for me growing up, I would look at all the time hiding the shame and the guilt of being a homeless kid, of having thestill to survive, of having the parents that I had. And then realizing like the more I harbored that secret, the more that it just festered and ate me alive. And then I came to realize like, wait a second, why does the shame of this have to power over me? And I kind of got to this place of, you can own your story or your story can own you. And that's a very, very different experience. One of the things that I'm curious about and I just know that people are probably thinking this and it's probably gonna parlay with your last response, but what would you say to people who would say something along the lines. Yeah, well, you're probably still an addict, but you're not facing the truth.

Erica:I'd say that they're probably trying to shame me and nobody can shame me more than I've already shamed myself in the past. So, you're on your own journey, I'm online, you know, I don't know how else to answer that.It's like, if anybody tries to assess, you know, it seems kind of pointless. So, it's like more about their stuff than mine.

Michael:Yeah. I love that. And it sounds to me like so much of this journey has been owning who you are, beingthe Erica that you're supposed to be, or have the capability and the ability to be.And I think radical ownership about all aspects of life is the most important thing. Before I ask you my last question, what are your thoughts about where if someone feels like this is a struggle, they're facing addiction, maybe it is destroying their life. What do you suggest that they do? Where do they start?

Erica:I always suggest going to a 12-step meeting first, and it's not, you know, 12 step is not something that I've stuck with. I didn't find it helpful for long term support, but at the very beginning, it was absolutely important,it was crucial because it gave me a safe place to go meet other people who are going to the same thing and be witnessed, just like I said, for being myself or saying these scary things that I had never said to anyone except for my husband at that time. But you won't be rejected there, you won't be pushed away, you won't be the one weird person in the room, you know, because it's important to reveal the secrets, but sometimes it can be scary and maybe not appropriate to say it to like your partner or a family member or, you know, whoever you're close to, they might not be ready for it and you might not have the words to even go there yet. You know, you might still be processing, but at least in this place, you can be messy and open and true and it's allowed there. It's a totally safe space. So, I always recommend that as a first thing, whether you stick with it or not, just without support system.

Michael:That's beautiful. And I would wholeheartedly agree as someone who's been in those rooms and sat in those seats. I definitely relate to that.Where can everyone find you, your book and more of your writing?

Erica:So, my book is getting off one woman's journey through sex and porn addiction. You can find it on Amazon or Simon and Schuster website, pretty much anywhere online, it's available. And my website is ericagarza.com, I'm on Instagram @ericadgarza

Michael:Great. And of course, we'll put the links in the show notes for the unbroken nation. My last question for you, my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Erica:Being unbroken means being yourself, feeling okay to be authentic, say the truth, be messy, be imperfect and be okay with that.

Michael:Brilliantly said, thank you so much for being here.

Unbroken Nation. Thank you so much for listening.

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Michael Unbroken

Coach

Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.

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Erica Garza

Writer

Erica Garza is the author of the memoir, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, which has been featured at The New York Times, Elle, VICE, The Guardian, The LA Review of Books, Cosmopolitan, Megyn Kelly TODAY, and NPR. Her essays have appeared in TIME, Glamour, Health, BUST, Good Housekeeping, The Cut, The Los Angeles Review, and Salon. She holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy from the Vancouver School of Narrative Therapy. Born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents, she has spent the majority of her adult life traveling and living abroad.