Working in pornography is arguably one of the most stigmatized, misunderstood professions. Plus, being in recovery from substance use disorder and other mental health adversities often means leading a stigmatized, misunderstood life. A quick Google search of “sober porn stars” took me down a rabbit hole of former adult entertainers who are now in recovery and often cite the porn industry as the catalyst for their downward spiral. While these anecdotal stories deserve to be heard, what about the people who get sober and still choose to work in porn? What about the folks that are working in the porn industry and thriving — both personally and professionally — precisely because of their recovery? 

I recently traveled to The Valley, a.k.a. Porn Valley in Los Angeles, to interview sober porn stars. The deeper I dug, the more I learned that some of the top performers in today’s adult industry are sober. Some even credit sobriety for their rising careers. Here’s what some porn stars have to say about daily life in recovery:

On Self-Care:

“What I find addiction to be is not so much the drugs and alcohol, it’s the mental obsession I have in my brain. That’s one of my biggest hurdles. Things in my mind begin to morph and I begin to obsess over other things and that can show up at work. Sometimes I have to spend an hour centering myself. Sometimes I have to get on a 6am flight and I can’t center myself. Sometimes I just have to give it up to someone else because I don’t have the answer. I have to focus on what works. Meditation. Helping other people. Doing selfless acts. Loving my inner child — that’s a big part of it.” – Seth Gamble, multiple-time AVN and XBIZ award-winning adult actor and star of the recent adult blockbuster film, Perspective

“Are there dishes in your sink? Wash half of them and see how you feel. Go make your bed. Take a walk around the neighborhood. I get so much good mental health out of opening my mail as it comes. If it let it pile up, I’ll probably have a fit of depression. It goes hand in hand for me. I need to do that stuff.” – Lance Hart, AVN 2020’s Niche Performer of the Year

“Yardwork or some other kind of physical labor helps me unwind. I’ve spent years in recovery talking about my feelings and all that, but sometimes I just need to get energy out. Rather than go create chaos, I dig up my yard”. – Karma RX, adult performer and model

“Having a trauma-based therapist has been huge for my recovery. That’s where I learned boundaries. I surround myself with people who are in recovery and stay plugged into my sex worker community.” – Allie Awesome, cam girl and stand up comedian

On Self-Love:

“If I’m not listening to myself, I can’t communicate with another person”. – Allie Awesome, cam model and clip star who also performs standup comedy

“Part of staying sober long term is being able to deal with resentment and judgment. If you can’t find a healthy way to process your own resentments and judgments, you’re not going to make it. You’re going to eventually go back to what ‘worked’ — which was alcohol and drugs. You have to deal with the acid of resentment that’s coursing through your veins.” – Lance Hart

“You are what you think about. Whatever you focus on is whatever you’re going to think about. I’m an alcoholic… I’m really good at going down rabbit holes. If I focus on good shit, I can go far that way, too. I can use my alcoholism as a superpower or I can use it as a detriment to me.” – Seth Gamble

“It’s a journey. I’ve gone through moments where I felt like complete and utter crap to then feeling really liberated and empowered. I’m able to see value in my life, my purpose, and the things I hold dear to myself. In this [sobriety] journey, I’ve lost people. I’ve also gained a lot of spiritual wealth from losing those people.” – Jacen Zhu, adult performer and proud advocate for black lives, queer lives, and the HIV+ community

On Feeling Triggered:

“I’ve always had the desire to get loaded. It’s never really gone away for me. It passes. If I can be busy, it usually passes faster. It’s not like everything is fucked all the time, I’ve just learned coping mechanisms. Sometimes I’ll take a break or go to a meeting or write some shit down or call somebody or bitch about my problems”. – Karma RX

“When I come home from a long day of work, I want something to reward myself. I want something to spike those dopamines. It can’t be alcohol. It can’t be pot. So it’s often food. Usually sugar. I’ve thought about going to OA meetings because I see the same patterns emerging where I’m hiding food in the bathroom and eating it in the bathroom — the way I did with vodka”. – Holly Randall, erotic photographer, director, and producer

“Never think that you’re cured. Don’t get so comfortable where you stop working and focusing on your sobriety. Going to a meeting every once in a while is still important for me no matter how long I’m sober. It grounds me and reminds me that I’m never fully recovered.” – Amber van de Bunt aka Karmen Karma, adult performer and author of Overcome: A Memoir Of Abuse, Addiction, Sex Work, and Recovery

“It feels like addicts are born with a broken reward system. From birth, I’ve wanted instant gratification. I feel like a normal person’s brain is looking for a long game, not a short game. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s a long game here. That short game never served me.” – Seth Gamble

On Stopping Drinking:

“I always thought that alcoholics were people who experienced childhood trauma. They had some kind of mental disorder or they lived under a bridge. I never thought it could happen to somebody like me who had a wonderful childhood with loving, supportive parents. I’ve never experienced any kind of sexual, physical, mental trauma at all. I was well-educated. I had everything I could ever ask for. When my drinking started to spiral out of control, I was so confused because I couldn’t understand why I was behaving that way. I didn’t get it. I knew that I was lucky. I knew I had gifts and a great life. I knew I had no concrete reason to drink the way that I drank. But I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t understand the reason why I couldn’t stop — and that was the most frustrating thing. I felt so lost.” – Holly Randall

“I got sober by replacing the addiction. Instead of partying, I got really involved in the gym. I went full force into fitness mode. Instead of going to the club, I went to the gym and got natural endorphins. You have to find a healthy outlet to put that energy into. You need something to occupy yourself.” – Amber van de Bunt aka Karmen Karma

On Relapse: 

“So much of my ego was wrapped up in my sobriety before I relapsed. I really did see myself as this pinnacle, this sober woman who had all of these things and my career was going great. I thought I was better than other people. That relapse really kicked my ass and also taught me a lot of compassion that I didn’t have before.” – Holly Randall

“When I went out*, I knew I was a drug addict and alcoholic. That was the scary part. Before it was like, I dunno…I just party. I knew I partied like a crazy person but I didn’t think it was a problem. People would tell me I drink too much or do too many drugs but I didn’t think it was a problem”. – Seth Gamble

*Editor’s note: This is a common term used in the 12-step community. It references withdrawing from meetings to return to one’s addiction.

“When I relapsed in February 2019, I posted about it on the internet and I didn’t get a single bit of backlash from companies. I thought people would be nervous to hire me but it was this overwhelming support. Everybody in the industry was like, ‘dude, we’re so glad you made it back.’ You’re awesome — we’re booking you. I probably got more bookings that week than I ever have because I relapsed, told on myself, and got clean again. And I don’t know any other industry where that would be a thing”. – Karma RX

The more adult performers I chatted with, the more I learned that we are all in this recovery journey together. Regardless of where we were born or the types of lives we lead or what flavor ice cream we prefer, we all speak the same language in recovery.