‘It’s not an easy process’; There is life after addiction with the support of others at Desert Solace

Desert Solace Outpatient Services, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2020 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Brandon McDonald grew up thinking he was a terrible person.

Feeling shame and guilt and thinking his brain was “just wired that way,” he hid the pain and his struggle with a pornography addiction until reaching a day where life was no longer manageable and it was time to seek help.

“It’s hard for people to get to that point to say, ‘I have had enough of this,’” said McDonald, who now operates Desert Solace Outpatient Services, which specializes in treating pornography and sexual addictions.

McDonald told St. George News that for people to decide they need to get help with their addictions, they first have to see that the pain associated with the treatment is less than the pain associated with continuing to live in their addiction.

“It was a hard process,” he said about his long path to recovery, “but it was the most valuable lesson I ever learned in my life.”

Time to come clean

McDonald’s addiction had completely spiraled out of control in the summer of 2018. Living with his wife and four kids in Las Vegas, he was an attorney who hated conflict, and being in litigation all the time was wearing him down — at times, feeling like he would do absolutely anything to find an escape.

“I hated what I did. I didn’t like being an attorney. I’d go to work and think, ‘I do not want to do this,’ so I’d find some way to mentally escape,” he said. “It wasn’t always just pornography addiction. It was mentally fantasizing. You think about anything outside yourself at the moment. You think about the past or the future or just escaping.”

Desert Solace Outpatient Services, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2020 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

Having any addiction burns up a lot of time, but even more so with pornography, and he found himself avoiding everyone and becoming a serious procrastinator. Everything was being neglected, but his family suffered the most.

“You’re very good at kind of pushing everything off and saying, ‘Well, I don’t want to deal with this now, so I’m just gonna push this off. But that makes me feel bad, so I’m just going to look online and see what I can do to jump into my fantasies.'”

He said with many addicts, the struggle starts in their youth. Usually there is something traumatic that happened that their mind doesn’t allow them to handle, and for whatever reason, they do not possess the healthy coping mechanisms that others naturally have.

“It is a problem throughout the country. They’ve done studies that show that. They haven’t pinned down a number, but somewhere upwards of 30% of men are addicted to pornography, or at least access it several times a week, up to daily,” McDonald said. 

Some people go to the gym, seek out friends or find a healthy way to vent, but others automatically gravitate toward substances like alcohol, prescription painkillers or other drugs to provide some momentary relief. For McDonald, it was pornography that always made him feel better.

“Whatever it was that they were exposed to earliest, their brain thinks that’s the path of least resistance,” he said, adding that with addicts, it is often destructive behavior.

Seeking help

The first step is to decide that you are ready to make a change and reach out for help. During his 90-day stay at Desert Solace’s St. George inpatient treatment center, McDonald said his life was brought back into balance. Through a series of individual and group therapy sessions and an innovative equine therapy program, he learned to respect and love himself like never before.

Studies that he’s read say that a full recovery from a pornography or sex addition can take three to five years of very consistent therapy. It’s not an easy process at all, but he said in the end, it is well worth any hardship. 

“It wasn’t until I went through Desert Solace’s inpatient program that I saw who I really am and that I can have love for myself. From that love, I don’t need addiction. I can fill my life with activities that bring me a better connection to myself and to others and to God.”

Through treatment, he found true peace and ways to create joy, and where it was completely lacking before, he learned how to trust others again. Soon after graduation from the program, he realized how blessed he was to have his wife’s support throughout his recovery — emotionally, physically and financially — and he wanted to find a way to help others who might not be as fortunate. 

“That’s all my wife and I are here to do – to try and help other people who are struggling with what we struggled with,” he said. 

To begin the process, a consultation is scheduled with Desert Solace’s certified therapist, Dr. Courtney Lyman, who will sit down with them, discuss their past and go over a plan for recovery depending on the client’s needs. For now, they are focused on individual therapy sessions, but in the future, they hope to start introducing more intensive all-day treatment programs and include equine therapy, addiction education, meditation and mindfulness lessons to introduce people to treatment on a more holistic level. 

While they are currently the only center in Southern Utah that specializes in pornography and sex addiction, McDonald said they can deal with any other type of addictive behavior. Outpatient treatment can take anywhere up to a year, and they also provide aftercare for patients who have completed the Desert Solace inpatient program. The most important element is having therapy consistent.

Beyond treatment for addiction, Desert Solace Outpatient Services provides other forms of therapy, including couples counseling and therapy for spouses who experience betrayal trauma from dealing with their spouse’s addictions. They are also offering a two-day couples workshop Feb. 28-29 based on the book “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson. The workshop is designed to help couples identify their usual argument patterns and move into being more accessible, emotionally responsive and deeply engaged with each other.

“Addiction is what we use to cover up all that stuff that we want to hide down inside,” he said. “That’s what the 12 steps are designed to do. You’ve got to get all that stuff out, because if you don’t, you’re just going to go back to those addicted behaviors.”

McDonald said his priority is offering as many of the services that Desert Solace’s inpatient program offers but in an outpatient setting for people who aren’t able to take that much time away from the grind of daily life. His wife is also involved with helping with spouses and loved ones who are struggling with betrayal trauma from experiencing a total loss of trust in their partner.

Even though McDonald was a skeptic before entering treatment, he now realizes how important it was to his wife and family and how his recovery has allowed him to finally be present in his life. He said:

When I was in my addiction, I was constantly trying to mentally escape. Real life was a diversion to me, and I would think, ‘How do I get back into my head? How do I get out of the present moment?’ Now, every moment, I try to stay present and stay conscious of what I’m doing, where I’m at, who I’m with, and it’s a completely different world for me. When I’m with my kids, I’m actually there with my kids. I’m not thinking what’s going on in social media. I don’t need to go to my phone to have that distraction anymore.

There is life after addiction, McDonald said.

“Recovery is possible. It just takes hope and a bit of help.”

Desert Solace Outpatient Services is located at 694 S. Main St., St. George. For more information, visit their website or call 435-673-3333 and schedule an appointment.

Written by ANDREW PINCKNEY, St. George News.

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