Checking in, and trying something new: “planned” acting out

[Update – I haven’t got round to writing a new post yet, but I have already put a halt to the below method of ‘planned acting out’. It wasn’t for me and felt really wrong. I feel much better now I’ve stopped. I don’t think porn recovery should involve watching porn!]

I’m trying a new type of recovery technique. One that involves watching porn… Before I explain, I’m going to take a minute to write a sort of status update, to provide context and a bit of blog documentation of where I’m at right now. My daughter is now nearly 3 months old. She’s doing great, and me and my wife are loving it, although it is not easy! Parenthood has been the biggest challenge my recovery from porn addiction has faced since I started to quit almost a year ago. In January and February this year I went 100% clean with no porn, but since becoming a dad, I’ve slipped up more and more and, when looked at purely from a statistical point of view, I’m acting out almost as much as I was when I was using just willpower alone at the beginning of the fight (essentially acting out every 1 to 2 weeks). I think the reason for this has simply been priorities. During my most successful periods of abstinence from porn, I was basically devoting my life to recovery. I was writing a journal every day, going to counselling and SAA every week, doing written exercises, reading books, doing meditation etc. It was a full-time job, and it worked. Unfortunately, fatherhood does not provide anywhere near enough time to keep doing these activities. The first priority is the baby – helping with the routine, bathing her, putting her to sleep, playing with her etc etc. Then comes my wife – giving her time to get stuff done (even basics like eating and showering), supporting her emotionally and mentally, encouraging her when she’s struggling, discussing all things parenting etc etc. Only when all of the above are taken care of do I get to think about my own time, so this is quite rare. I can probably count on two hands the number of times my wife and I have had simply a few hours of calm in the evening where all the above are ticked off and we can do whatever we want. When I act out, I as always tell my wife. The thing is, it just hasn’t been that big a deal these days. We have more important things to worry about, so we just accept it and move on. But it still takes its toll. It depresses me as it always has done, and distracts me from what is important in my life. Willpower alone is not enough to keep me sober, although it is enough to keep sober enough to get on with my life, so recovery isn’t getting much attention. However, talking to my therapist, who I now see every two weeks instead of weekly, I’ve finally accepted a proposed method that she’s mentioned a few times that I’ve always resisted – “planned” acting out. That is, agreeing in advance a frequency and duration of acting out, and sticking to it. For example, 30 minutes of acting out once a week. This seems a bit counter-intuitive but there is some logic behind it:

  • It converts my acting out from being something that is in control of me to something I am in control of. Instead of looking back at a month’s progress and seeing lots of acting out that I had no control over, I’ll see pre-agreed periods of acting that I was in control of.
  • This gives a baseline that can then be slowly improved. E.g. to once every 2 weeks, and/or reduce duration etc.
  • This is essentially ‘weaning off’ porn rather than going cold-turkey, the latter requiring a lot of effort which it seems I don’t have room in my life to fit in amongst my other duties.
  • By putting a cap on the time of each acting out, this removes the ‘binge’ element of the addiction by only giving myself a quick fix rather than allowing for the hours-long sessions of the past.
  • Something relatively radical is needed due to my extreme lack of time and ability to prioritise recovery
  • It can’t be worse than what I’m currently doing!

I’ve always resisted this as I’ve felt that since the goal is to not watch porn, and total abstinence seems to be the common approach that is acknowledged in the recovery community, agreeing a plan that involved watching it would be too strange. However, what I’m currently doing isn’t working, so I’m up for trying it. If it doesn’t work, so be it, but at least I will have given it a shot. So, in reality this means that once a week, I have to find 30 minutes to watch porn, whether I want to or not. I then must not watch porn in between these times of course, and I will try and re-introduce meditation during the week to manage any urges that may come up. Once I’ve got 4 weeks under my belt, I can then start to reduce the frequency and duration – perhaps moving to every 2 weeks, or reduce the time to 15 minutes, for example. Today was my first day. It was day 7 of sobriety and while I was feeling a bit urged, I was on top of it and didn’t actually want to watch porn! But, I had to, if I’m going to give this method a shot. I explained all this to my wife who continues to be amazingly supportive. I found 30 minutes to myself when my wife was sleeping, and watched porn. 30 minutes is shorter than I would usually watch it so it wasn’t as satisfying and I felt terrible afterwards. I struggled to stay positive when I wanted to not watch it but did just to stick to the program. But my wife encouraged me, reminding me that it is healthy I’m feeling a bit down about it, rather than being pleased I watched it. I’m feeling better about it now, and now I get to focus on a week of sobriety until next week. Finally, to pick up on an earlier point – I mentioned that my ‘statistical’ levels of acting out are back to what they were in the old days, but if I remember that back then I had no child to look after and life was much simpler, to be on the same level as then even though I am dealing with much greater stresses and pressures, shows I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve also made loads of progress mentally – I no longer spend my time trying to escape from responsibilities and instead I try to embrace them (not perfect, but much improved), supporting my wife as much as I can. I’m now much more connected to my feelings, and happy to share them with others in public when usually these would remain hidden. Even my wife has noticed this and has even started doing it herself – being more open when she is out socially. I’ve also thought long and hard about who my true friends are and am trying to focus on those relationships rather than spread myself too thin. I’ve realised I only really have one or two friends, and between them and my family, I’m happy with that and am going to use that as the building blocks for my future. So in this regard, I know I’ve made loads of progress too, so while I’m still acting out on a semi-regular basis, I feel my actual outlook on life is far improved, and I’m proud of that.

Fatherhood and addiction

Since becoming a dad, my addiction has taken a back-seat in my life. It is no longer something I focus on each day.

Unfortunately the arrival of a newborn isn’t in of itself sufficient for the addiction to disappear, much as I would like it to, and the combination has meant I’ve started acting out again.

What is weird is that the acting outs haven’t been that important to me or my wife. Neither of us seem to have time or energy to worry about them. I admit to my wife I acted out, we acknowledge it is bad and talk about a few things that I could do differently or what may have caused it, but then we have to get back to feeding, settling, sleeping, bathing or whatever other baby-related activity needs doing. We don’t have time to wallow in the addiction.

This is good and bad, but mostly bad I suppose. I need to be still focussing on the addiction and trying to beat it, but I genuinely have no idea how to do that when I can’t devote the amount of time and effort that I think is needed.

Still, I am doing a few things now – I write in my journal every day, I read my pillars 3 times a day, and I use an app (“Balanced“) to softly track and motivate me to do various other activities like meditation, cycling, being thankful etc.

I do feel I am living a better life – I am not trying to escape into porn like I used to or stay up all night long. I’m giving my wife and daughter my full attention and being a loving attentive father. I just keep slipping up on random moments I get to myself. Part of me is starting to think this is ok – just watch some porn every now and then as a way to destress! I don’t have time to go on the long binges of the olden days. This is probably dangerous thinking – any porn use that is compulsive is bad.

Anyway I’m keeping up the fight. Although I think the term probably needs to be changed from fight to flee! If porn or urges get too close, don’t fight – run away! Get out of that situation, away from the computer, out of the house, whatever it takes to remove you from temptation.

I hope everyone else is doing well in their recovery.

The Struggle Continues

It is time for another blog post.

March has been a really tough month. Becoming a dad has changed everything, and unfortunately those changes haven’t all been supportive of an addict’s recovery.

After 66 days of sobriety since 1st January 2015, I have relapsed 3 times during March. After my first relapse, I assessed the reasons, and these are mainly still true – not enough sleep and not finding the time to continue with the tools of recovery I had spent January and February putting together.

Unfortunately, while I was able to logically see why I slipped up and what to do about it, actually putting those steps into practice has been harder than I thought.

I’ve found that the constant tiredness from fatherhood has not only sapped my ability to focus on the steps required for recovery, but it has allowed significant negativity and depression creep in – I’ve regularly felt completely demotivated and depressed. I’m acutely aware of some of the aspects of my life that have resulted from my porn use, such as the fact I essentially have no close friends anymore, and the a feeling of loneliness has strongly arisen in me.

To feel more acutely lonely is on one hand strange considering I have such a new purpose now in my daughter, but also understandable if you think that most of my home life is now occupied with caring for both my daughter and wife, with very little time left for ‘me’. I desperately want someone else who I can call just to say hi to who knows me (I believe these are called friends!), and the fact there is no-one I can call is really getting me down.

The problem is, that isn’t going to change any time soon. I can’t magically create overnight the sort of connections with people that take years to make, so I need to focus on living my life the way it needs to be lived.

So I’m slowly trying to focus on and commit to doing the steps I need to do. Reading my pillars every day, meditating every day, writing my journal every day, and most importantly, waking up in the morning and remembering that I am better than this addiction, that it is behind me and that I am going to accept myself, embrace the day and the live the life I deserve to.

In addition, I’ve also suggested to my wife that we abstain from sexual activity at least for one month. I have noticed that my acting out over the last month has been heavily related to sexual excitement and anxiety relating to when I think we may next have sex or other sexual activity, which is sporadically unpredictable due to the fact we have a baby! Eliminating the possibility will hopefully allow me to avoid sexual distraction and focus on the tools of recovery.

Day 67 – Relapse

Yesterday, after 66 days sober of compulsive porn and masturbation, I relapsed. This post is to allow me to get into writing what happened, why it happened, and what I can do to prevent a future re-occurrence.

What happened?

Either the day of the relapse or before, when browsing the ‘controversial’ filter of my reddit homepage, a pic of a model appeared. The pic itself wasn’t nude, but the comments section contained plenty of links to nude images (and I knew they would). I was in a state of mind where, with 66 days of sobriety behind me, I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to handle triggering images, but later on I came back to the post and clicked one of the links. It was a bit of excitement, just to see the forbidden fruit and ‘test’ myself. At the time, I remember feeling that it didn’t actually do anything for me – I didn’t really get turned on, in fact I remember feeling the opposite – I felt “this is behind me now, this is an artificial representation of female sexuality and I don’t need it anymore”.

However, clearly there was more going on in my head asI came back to the links a second time later on, and looked at a few more. Then, my wife went to bed and I was up on my own. I clicked another link, which went to a non-porn video website that had associated videos which were softcore porn. I put my phone down to resist, knowing full well the territory I was now entering. But a few minutes later I came back and watched a few of them. Then I put my phone down again. By this point the prospect of watching porn was getting pretty real in my head but I was still resisting. Then something gave way, I opened up my laptop and watched porn – “edging” (where you watch and masturbate to porn but don’t orgasm) for about 45 minutes. Then by chance my wife called me to bed and I closed my laptop and went upstairs.

I was battling in my head about whether what I had done counted as a relapse, as I hadn’t climaxed. Deep down, I knew it did, and that my counter of 66 days needed to be reset, but I was trying to think of a rational way of not resetting my counter and not counting it as a relapse. I knew that I would have felt very differently (both physically and emotionally) had I actually climaxed, but I also knew that whenever I discuss this topic with other addicts, my opinion is consistent: edging is relapsing.

My wife then got up to breastfeed our newborn daughter, and I suggested I go to the spare room to get some sleep (we each take turns to do this so we aren’t both tired at the same time). Probably about 10% of me knew I was suggesting this as way of putting myself back in a position where I could look at porn again, and perhaps finish off what I had started. This is known as a cognitive distortion – justifying putting yourself in a situation where you know you may watch porn.

I went to the spare room and almost instantly started watching porn on my phone again. I quickly decided that I had clearly relapsed and that I needed to get it over and done with. In my experience, edging then stopping leaves me in a weird state of emotions for days (usually leading to more edging and an eventual climax), and I usually only get back on track once I have actually climaxed as there is just too much going on in my head. In the past, I have often just decided to climax once I’ve found myself edging, just to get it out of the way and back to recovery (this has been a valid technique in my experience, not an excuse).

So I watched porn. For hours. Climaxing three times, getting about 2 hours sleep. This is known as binging. The preferable method of relapsing, if there is one, is to watch porn briefly only once then get back to staying sober, but so often when I’ve watched porn once, and I know I’ve failed for that day, I tell myself I may as well watch more until the night is over as it won’t make that day any more ‘failed’ than it already is. Again, a cognitive distortion.

In the morning, I told my wife. I have never lied to her since I started my recovery in earnest, and so I explained briefly why I think I did it (see below) and what I need to do differently. She was very upset, not just because I had relapsed but because she is suffering from extreme tiredness and felt hurt I had been given the gift of a solid 6 hours sleep in the spare room (something she’s not had since the birth) and I just used it to watch porn. She also was hoping since the birth that the addiction was in the past. She had a cry, we talked a bit more, had a hug, and we’re ok now – we’re in this together.

Why did it happen?

I think this one is quite easy to answer. About 1.5 weeks ago I became a dad. Since then, sleep has been a thing of magical fantasy, as has ‘me time’. I’ve been constantly on duty for 10 days – changing nappies, cuddling the baby while my wife sleeps, supporting my wife, cooking etc.

I had started to feel a bit claustrophobic and constricted – ‘cabin fever’. I hadn’t seen any of my friends (the few that I have), but had played host while my wife had plenty of her friends round, and I hadn’t really left the house. I needed to vent; an outlet just to give myself some time to myself. Nothing serious, I don’t want to escape from my responsibilities or anything like that, but I started to feel like I just needed to give myself some time to explore my own mind a bit and relax. My wife recognised this days ago and encouraged me to do so, but I didn’t do it. I think the addict in me knew that if I didn’t give myself some time, I would continue to get more worked up and increase the chances of watching porn, so I resisted doing something ‘wholesome’ for myself (e.g. read a book, go for a cycle, play guitar etc).

In addition to not devoting time to myself, since the birth I had stopped doing all the recovery activities that I had put in place. This included:

  • Writing my journal each night, including listing 5 things I am grateful for or have achieved
  • Reading my pillars
  • Going to SAA meetings and therapy
  • Meditation
  • Healthy activities (cycling, guitar, reading etc)

These are all activities that I have added to my life in order to counteract specific aspects of my addiction. Since the birth, I’ve completely stopped doing all of them. Why? Well, a mixture of being too tired and distracted by new routines, and also a bit of hope that I’m over porn and I don’t need to anymore. Clearly that isn’t true.

So, the combination of not having enough sleep, feeling mentally constricted by not giving myself any space, and not performing any of my recovery activities, led to an unmanageable build up of stress and anxiety, leading me to watch porn to self-soothe. I did it as I needed an escape, and porn is the most efficient escape I know. Funnily enough, I wasn’t really feeling ‘triggered’ in the usual sense – I wasn’t full of urges to watch porn. I just wanted to have some time to myself. This is something I have identified a while back as part of my addiction, hence the need to introduce healthy activities to replace porn, but as these were not being done, porn became the go-to solution.

What does this mean?

I asked myself how significant this relapse was. There are those on the internet that think that a sober ‘streak’ is all that matters, and totally berate themselves for slipping up. I am not in that camp. Statistically speaking, my measure of success has so far been monthly trends of % clean. I started at 68% sober in July 2014, slowly rising until I got to 100% in January and February 2015.

It is really easy to lose faith and motivation from a relapse, but it is very important to avoid this. There is an inner voice of desperation that I hear when I relapse, which tells me to give up and stop trying to quit because I never will be able to. I have to silence this voice with determination and positivity. Therefore, my stance on this relapse is that I did amazingly well to get to day 67 and have made so much progress not only in abstinence but in understanding who I am and how to reconnect with my life. Having assessed why I slipped up, I feel I can accept this relapse on the basis that a) it is understandable given the change my life is going through becoming a dad and b) I am going to learn from it and commit to putting in place steps to try and avoid a recurrence in similar situations.

If anyone reading this is now thinking that I’m giving myself an easy ride, you may be falling into the shame trap. Addictions are fuelled by shame, self-doubt and negativity. Dwelling on a relapse, kicking myself, telling myself how much I’ve failed, are all logical reactions but entirely counter-productive to recovery, so I will not be doing any of these things. But, make no mistake, inside I am saddened by my relapse and it is not easy to re-motivate. But I will.

What will I do differently / what can I learn from this?

So, now what? Based on the reasons for my relapse, what I will do now is:

  • Re-instate a program of healthy recovery activities that I had unwittingly abandoned, at a level of regularity that fits in with my increased levels of responsibility and duties as a father. I haven’t yet defined this specifically, but something along the lines of:
    • Perhaps a nightly journal is too ambitious and I should reduce this to weekly.
    • Re-dedicate 10 minutes a day (or every other day?) to meditation (I started using www.headspace.com – “meditation for dummies”)
    • Try harder to replace my unhealthy time-filling activities (mindlessly browsing reddit etc) with healthy ones like reading, playing guitar or exercise. Going back to work from paternity leave will re-introduce the exercise as I commute on a bicycle.
  • Learn to identify when I’m feeling too constricted and need time to myself. I’ve identified that sometimes, due to feelings of urges, I may not be pro-active enough to make myself do an activity, and so I’ve asked my wife to remind me of this and essentially force me to go and do something productive.
  • Learn to reach out for help. When I’m struggling, there are so many people I can call upon, but I don’t do it. I’m not quite sure why not, but I need to try.

What am I not going to do differently?

Whenever abstinence from porn is discussed, the topic of content restrictions and blocks must always be considered, but it is something I’m not yet prepared to go back to. My wife and I tried it for one month last year and it was the worst month of my entire recovery – trying to break the blocks became more of a game than actually watching porn, and I felt that I was training my brain to rely on blocks rather than self-control. So for now I’m going to continue to use reddit etc, as I believe the risk of stumbling across NSFW content is worth it compared to the myriad of troubles (and lack of success) I experienced with a content blocking approach.

Fin

So there we go. There’s my account of my relapse, what it means to me and what I’m going to do to try and avoid a further relapse under similar situations next time. Maybe this will be interesting to others, but it at least serves as a reminder and documentation to myself.

As they say in the 12 step program, “we seek progress not perfection“.

Becoming a dad

Last week I became a dad for the first time, to a healthy beautiful daughter. I never expected at the age of 32 to start feeling new emotions I’ve never felt before, but here I am, in a world of besotted love for another human like no other (and a level of enhanced love for my wife!).

I’m so glad I caught my addiction before she was born (I am 62 days sober currently). I can’t imagine how I’d be dealing with this if porn was still something I had in my life. How would I be providing my wife with the support she needed? How would I be caring for my daughter? The thought of ‘the old me’ having the responsibilities of being a dad scares the hell out of me!

I haven’t managed to make it to the last 2 weeks of SAA though, and I’m conscious that while I am in a good place with my sobriety, complacency is a dangerous thing and I need to remember that I am still an addict and the urges could come back any time. To that end, I’ve called a fellow SAA member to meet up next week for a coffee just so I can chat through all this and keep myself grounded. That was one of the biggest benefits of going to SAA – it was a weekly reminded that this addiction is real, and of the damaging effects of it.

I really hope I stay sober. For her. Right now I feel strong, but I know the urge is always there deep down, ready to come back if I let my guard down.

The Inner Anguish

This post is about the voice in my head.

I’ve come to know this as my inner anguish or struggle, and it encapsulates so many important aspects of my personality that it will be hard to summarise here, but I’m going to give it a try as I’m struggling to figure this out.

I have a lot of self-doubt, and I have a lot of anger. Not nasty anger, but just a feeling that I am always unhappy with the actions of others and am quick to judge them and be annoyed with them. I am very critical of everyone and everything, including myself. Despite an outer confidence, I lack a true inner self-confidence.

One way this manifests itself is in a permanent worry about everything I do and how it could be perceived by others. I analyse everything and if I can think of any way that what I did could be perceived negatively, I immediately assume that anyone who witnessed that action will be the type of person to take this negative opinion. I start to play over in my head endless variations of a potential confrontation about the thing I just did. I seem to immediately assume that everyone around me is out to get me and that I’m always a single mistake away from an argument with a stranger.

The reality is that all these things I worry about never come true. Never have I ended up in an argument with someone who I was playing through in my mind. I have no reason to assume the worst of everyone yet I continue to do so.

One root cause of this is this lack of self-belief. If I doubt myself, and am not confident in who I am, then it makes sense that I would always be worrying about my actions and how others may interpret them. I am also a perfectionist, and I may be applying a standard of perfection to my actions, and therefore constantly be disappointed with myself when I don’t act perfectly. I lack true self-confidence and conviction in my own actions, so I doubt them, question them and worry about them, instead of just accepting that what will be will be.

I guess perhaps that because I immediately jump to conclusions and judgements about others, I assume that others are immediately jumping to (negative) conclusions and judgements about me. We project our own view of the world onto others as that is the easiest way of making sense of the world – by assuming everyone sees it the same way we do. The problem is they don’t, and I’m doing others a disservice by assuming the worst of them.

So I need to learn acceptance, both of myself and others. Probably if I learn to accept myself, accepting others will become easier. The problem is, addictions thrive on a lack of self-belief, so I need to try hard to re-instil a feeling of self-worth.

For example, I have long found it impossible to understand how a future child of mine could look up to me, or like me. I don’t like me, so how could someone else? One of the fellow SAA people I spoke to at my weekly SAA meeting tonight talked to me about his experience as a father, and he said that even though he doubts himself in so many ways, he is constantly amazed by his daughter’s proclamations that he’s the best dad ever.

I can learn to love myself. I can accept that others love me, and I can accept that I have worth. The addict in me tells me the opposite, as this helps to fuel the addiction, but now I have to stop beating myself up and start loving the world.

If I can do that, I hope I can stop playing out endless negative theoretical scenarios in my head, and learn to be at peace with the world. If something bad happens that bothers me, I need to assess it, understand it, deal with it if appropriate then move on. What I must not do is to take it with me for the rest of the day, stress about it and play it out again and again in my head (“if only I had dealt with it like …”). It is not all about me – someone who steps out in front of me on the bike is not doing it specifically at me – I just happened to be there when they did it. They will move on, I need to as well.

Apologies that this is probably a bit rambly. It is a topic that is new to me and also quite wide-reaching and is going to take some time for me to get my head around and start to resolve.

Applying Empathy

I am learning to be more empathic. I have, for various reasons, grown up with a focus on self-reliance and independence, at the expense of building connections with others. The solution to this is to start to act more empathically, thinking of others over mysel.f

I’ve been trying this a lot, and today was a good example I thought I’d jot down.

I was in a cafe with my wife. It was very busy and a lot of used mugs etc was left on the tables as the staff weren’t keeping up. My wife and I sat at a table and I cleared the table onto a tray and took it to the counter. The guy behind the counter seemed surprised and thanked me.

When we left, I decided to clear up our stuff and once again take it to the counter. The guy again thanked me quite profusely.

This act could be seen as so trivial and probably second nature to many, but to put this in perspective, my default response to this situation would usually to take a very non-personal, entitled approach, simply thinking that this is a company who should be delivering a service and it is not for me to do their job clearing things away. It is a harsh view on the world that I have grown comfortable taking as it makes me feel I’m more in control. However, if I see past the corporate stance and actually remember that there are people underneath, just like me, and think about them instead of me, I can act differently.

I’ve been trying to be more empathic in everything I do. I’m being a kinder driver – letting more people out and not being pushy (quite an achievement in London!). I have been asking people more about how they are and trying to remember what’s going on in their lives and bearing it in mind when I address them. I guess it is basically a question of prioritising how a situation affects other people, rather than how it affects me.

How does this relate to my addiction? The theory goes… if I act empathically towards others, I will start to form better connections with others and start to fill the hole of human connection that I was using porn to ignore and mitigate against. I am distant in my life, which leads me to acting out, which makes me more distant, and the cycle continues. I am now breaking the cycle by reawakening an empathic perspective that will help me face the world and stop trying to distance myself and escape from it.

One Month Sober – Reflections

Today, February 1st 2015, marks the first full calendar month that I have stayed sober from pornography. Throughout my efforts to quit last year, the longest I ever went was 13 days, and that was once – generally I would relapse on average after about 7 days, so I’m pleased to have made it to one month. Here’s my progress month-by-month since July 2014:

 

 

 

 

 

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The first chart is from a Google Sheet with a simple table containing each month, number of days in each month, number of days clean that month, and what that is as a percentage. The second image is from my Google Calendar, into which I mark each day with a red X or a green :) depending on whether I acted out or not. As you can see, January is all green!

Ironically, this milestone comes at a period of time when I’m feeling a bit down and unmotivated. I’ve had a tough few days over the last week, in terms of urges, and it has left me feeling a bit embattled, so I thought it would be worthwhile as a motivational tool to reflect on the positive changes I’ve seen over the last month.

Before I start, two caveats:

Firstly, I’ll tell you now that this is not going to be a revelatory-filled I’M LIVING A NEW LIFE-type experience. I’m actually a bit put off by the expectation set by many ex-porn addicts that you should settle for nothing less than a total revitalisation of your life, a fresh view on the world, spiritual enlightenment, etc etc. I think it is slightly irresponsible to be preaching these things without proper context – everyone has different experiences and is at different steps of the journey and I’ve definitely felt disappointed with my progress when compared to these ideals. So now I’m learning to be content with the progress I’ve made in relation to my own life and goals.

The second caveat is that many of the things I’ve noticed are not directly because I’ve stopped watching porn, but more because of the self-exploration I’ve been taking myself through. This month I’ve really focussed on revisiting my childhood, my parenting, my schooling and other factors throughout my life that have led me to be who I am today and led me to addiction. Exploring these, and exploring how I deal with emotions and other daily life events, has been the single most significant factor in improving my life and achieving success with sobriety in the last month.

So, here’s what my wife and I have noticed about my behaviour over the last month:

  • I’ve started to face up to my responsibilities. I’ve stopped thinking they are things to avoid at all costs, no matter how trivial, and started to embrace them. My wife is pregnant and I’ve been very slow in stepping up to the duties to take care of her, but she’s noticed a marked improvement now – she no longer notices resistance when she asks me to do something!
  • I’ve started to become more aware of my emotions as they happen, and therefore been able to take appropriate action to ensure I respond to them in a healthy way rather than my default negative self-soothing and destructive behaviour. For example, if I’m feeling especially tired on the cycle home (I commute about 10 miles on the bike) and I can feel grumpiness setting in, I make a plan to eat food and consciously relax as soon as I get home, and don’t allow my stress to get the better of me.
  • As a consequence of being more aware of my emotions, I’ve been able to stop taking out my withdrawal-induced frustrations on my wife. Many times in the past I would blame her (in my mind) for the anxiety I’d feel when the urges struck, simply as a way of deflecting responsibility, but now I have been able to rise above that and not allow my own struggles to spill over as resentment, anger and frustration directed towards her.
  • In line with my recent appreciation of the importance of empathy in the recovery process, I’ve been trying hard to think about others and not put myself first. Also trying to do more selfless things – actions which help others at no benefit to myself, in order to learn how to connect better with others.
  • I’ve been going to bed with my wife nearly every night, when in the past I would stay up playing games/watching porn almost every night of the week.
  • I got to a place of understanding where I felt confident enough to tell my sister about my addiction.
  • I’ve noticed similarities to porn addiction in other behaviours, such as mindless computer gaming or other means of escapism. I may not be ‘addicted’ to them, but I still use them for the same purposes as porn – namely avoidance, reclusion and escapism. I’ve stopped playing games for hours just to pass the time, and instead limit my time so I’m only conducting these behaviours for shorter periods, with a healthy mindset (i.e. not trying to escape!).

It has been a really pivotal month for me. It has also been really hard. A self-conducted character assassination, whereby I pull apart as many elements of my personality as I can and explore where they came from and how they fit into addiction, has been a pretty intense activity, and sometimes leaves me feeling a bit deflated. It can be hard to know what areas of myself are just normal fluctuations of an average personality and how many have strayed too far from the norm into unhealthy or addiction-tempting realms. It has also led to some less than favourable appreciations of the role my parents have played in my life, which has led to its own set of challenges as I still have a strained relationship with my father to put into its place in my new ‘healthier’ life.

I’ve also had some incredible support from others, without which I probably wouldn’t have made it. I’ve been going to weekly Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings and spent time before and after each gathering meeting fellow addicts, sharing stories and getting inspired by their tales. I’ve connected with loads of fellow addicts on twitter, such as @MattNoFap, @Neverfap and @NoFapCyclist, who have all shared their experiences and motivations and together we’ve become a pretty good team!

If I was to give any advice to others in the same boat, trying to hit their own sobriety targets, I’d say:

  • Connect with other addicts and non-addicts as deeply and honestly as possible, be it on the internet or face to face. Everyone’s journey of public admission is different so only do what you feel comfortable, but don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone – you’ll be surprised what you might find.
  • Understand why you use porn. What pains or realities is it helping you to deal with? I can’t stress enough how important this is. Just abstaining from porn but not learning about yourself achieves only sobriety, not recovery.
  • Listen to yourself. Learn to respond to your own emotions in a healthy way. Spot when you get stressed, tired, annoyed etc and make sure you do something healthy in response.
  • Think about others and try putting them first for a change. Ask how others are. Pro-actively offer help without having to be asked.

I remember when I simply couldn’t imagine staying sober for a month, so I’m really grateful to all those who have helped me get here – thank you all of you, you amazing people – but also to myself, for putting in the effort. It is certainly a rewarding feeling. Now for month 2! I’m certainly not complacent about my ability to stay sober another month but I know it is possible – if I put in the work I can do it.

Here goes!

Empathy and Addiction

As I continue to explore my life, my personality and my emotions I uncover areas that require further thought or that are especially relevant to my addiction and recovery. This week, the topics of empathy and human connections has been what has stood out and I’ve spent some time thinking about it.

To me, empathy means being mindful of the feelings of others and also then acting on this knowledge in a selfless way. These are two things I am not very good at.

Empathy has stood out to me this week as my therapist pointed out how it relates to one of the acknowledged types of sex addictions – attachment-induced addiction. This is one of three types of addiction explored by Paula Hall in her book Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction. I never felt it really applied to me but through revisiting and considering my childhood I’ve started to change that opinion.

Essentially, the theory goes that the attachment-induced addict has struggled to build grounded, meaningful connections with others, often due to a lack of bonding or affection from parents or others close during early years, and has sought solace in addiction, where the acting out has provided a false yet temporarily-soothing connection to compensate for the lack of true connections in the addict’s real life.

I’ve always regarded myself as someone who is comfortable spending time on my own. I’ve taken pride in the fact that I don’t feel the social pressure to always be part of a group. The flip-side, now I think of it, is that perhaps I’ve said this as a way of explaining/justifying the difficulty I’ve had in being really close with others. I’ve always been on the outskirts of the groups my friends are in – never a solid members of any social circle. I’ve always known I don’t have one group of close friends and that I just hover around the edges of multiple social circles, and the result is that I haven’t really succeeded in establishing a strong friendship with many people in my life. In fact, I’d go so far to say that I don’t really have any close friends these days. One or two who I have a close friendship with when we meet up, but that’s only a few times a year! If I died tomorrow, I think it would be a while before any of my friends noticed, as we just aren’t that close or in touch any more.

I can see, then, how I may have actually been using porn to compensate for this (and by using it only making the problem worse – vicious circle). It isn’t difficult to see the link between having a lack of meaningful connections with others and using porn to soothe and provide temporary relief from this reality. In a fascinating article by Johann Hari posted in The Huffington Post only a week ago, he states “So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.“. His argument is that in his view (and he has some examples to back this up), addictions aren’t the result purely of a chemical or habitual need; but are in fact symptoms of a deeper lack of connection with other human beings. The article really hit home for me.

So if I make a hypothesis that part of my addiction has been as a way to compensate for a lack of connections in my life and for a lack of emotional attachment as a child, how has this happened? There are a few examples that resonate on this level to me, e.g. I had a pretty formal relationship with my parents who were extremely averse to showing any form of emotion, and I was sent to public boarding school when I was 8 until 18. I can see how this may have contributed to me being a bit ‘pent up’, not getting the love and affection that is ‘recommended’, and becoming overly independent to compensate, ensuring I was protected by not opening myself up too much. I’m still figuring this part of my life out so I won’t dwell further on it.

So, back to empathy. I feel that practicing empathy is a great way for me to start to put right the imbalance in human connection in my life. I’m not going to suddenly start building great friendships overnight, or even knowing how to be empathic without at least some hard work, but I can start with small steps. Send some birthday cards. Give my wife a massage when she wants one even if I don’t want to. Be more pro-active in offering help rather than waiting to be asked. Do things that are purely for others at the expense of my own desires, for a greater reward. Think about what others are going through and how they’re feeling when I meet with them, not just about myself.

Funnily enough I’ve always felt I am quite selfish, which my wife really disagrees with, but maybe selfish isn’t the right word – I’m just lacking in the levels of empathy that most of us have – being a bit too self-involved because I haven’t learnt very well how to open up to people and put them first. So this is something I’m really going to focus on this year. Being empathic.

Apologies for the slightly chaotic structure of this post. As you may be able to tell, I’m still trying to consider all these aspects of my life and figure how they are related to each other and what I need to do about it to improve my life and strengthen my recovery.

Milestone #4 – Telling my sister

This weekend I told my sister about my addition. To me this represented the 4th milestone in my journey of recovery. Those milestones have been:

#1 – Admitting I was addicted to internet pornography and telling my wife

#2 – Going to see a therapist for the first time

#3 – Going to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting for the first time

#4 – Telling my sister

Deciding to tell her

Beating my addiction has had surprisingly little to do with day-to-day practicalities (i.e. how to physically not look at porn – although these have been very important), and instead has predominantly been about self-evaluation – understanding who I am, how I got here, what my life is like and how I deal with and respond to it, and how I use porn in relation to all these things. That’s an army of blog posts in itself, but the one aspect that led me to telling my sister was the idea of removing secrecy. Addictions thrive in secrecy and shame, and it became clear to me that I wanted to unify my ‘secret’, porn-watching persona with the public-facing persona everyone knows, so that I’m moving forward with more honesty in my life. That meant embracing the fact that I am an addict, and not hiding it; living a unified self that includes my addiction without hesitation and reservation.

And so it became clear to me that I needed to start telling people. Not immediately, hurriedly or insensitively,  but methodically and in a considered fashion that is conducive to my recovery and mental well-being. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I could tell. My wife already knew, so I started thinking of friends and family. I don’t have a lot of (any?) close friends these days so I couldn’t think of anyone that would share this journey with me – I didn’t want to just tell a friend and then move on and not see them again for 6 months; it would be a waste and wouldn’t really benefit either of us. I wanted to tell someone who was a significant enough part of my life that they would share this journey with me, for better or worse.

Last week, once I got home after a long evening with members of a London Sex Addicts Anonymous meet-up, I had a period of clarity of mind where it became clear to me that I should tell my sister. I had actually initially thought of telling her and my dad at the same time but due to the fact my dad has his own sex-related issues (totally unacknowledged but suspected by my sister and me), I decided to treat him separately – he may be in early stages of denial and so I’d need think of a very tailored approach to talking about this with him. So, putting my dad to one side left my sister. She is family, and she needs to know what I’m going through.

The call itself

I texted my sister: “So, I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Do you have an hour for a chat sometime?”. She lives in a different town so doing it in person wasn’t an option, and I couldn’t wait ’til we next met up. We agreed a time, and yesterday she rang me and I sat down on the sofa to explain the biggest secret of my adult life.

I told her that I’ve been assessing my life (we’ve talked about it quite a bit recently) because I’ve realised I’ve not been dealing with it in particularly healthy ways, and in one way in particular – porn. I explained how I had started looking at porn at school, and how 15 years later it was so woven into my daily life that I didn’t even realise there was a problem until I tried to quit, at which point it occurred to me I might have an addiction. We talked about the steps I’ve now taken to quit – seeing a therapist, going to SAA meeting, involving my wife, assessing my life. We talked about my childhood, our parents, my schooling and how my experiences may have led to porn, and we talked about porn addiction – what it is, what it isn’t etc. I recommended a film to watch (“Thanks for Sharing“) if she wanted to get an idea of the SAA meetings.

It couldn’t have gone better. Due to her slight resentment of my dad and his sex issues (he’s recently admitted to infidelity in his earlier days), I was worried she may have associations and not respond well. I couldn’t have been more wrong – she was totally unfazed, completely supportive and made it clear she was proud of me for opening up and that she thought I was really brave for telling her and for the general steps I am taking in my life. It was an incredible thing to hear – that this thing I’ve been doing that I’ve held on to so secretly is now known by someone and they don’t mind – she hadn’t fallen off her chair in disgust, she hadn’t disowned me – she was just supportive and encouraging. My sister is a very inquisitive person, and so she started asking loads of (non-intrusive) questions about addiction etc, which I was happy to discuss. Not that I had any doubt, but this call demonstrated a maturity of character in her that was awe-inspiring – I had handed her a piece of my self – my weakness – and she handled it perfectly and with such compassion and I was/am so grateful.

The call lasted an hour. I ended it by making it clear this is not a taboo subject. I encouraged her to ask me (as long as she is comfortable doing so) how it is going whenever she wants, and to not feel like she shouldn’t talk about it – it is important we all face this openly as the secrecy is the most dangerous aspect. I welcome questions and discussion, and I asked her to tell her husband who I get on well with, so at this point, a day later, he too now knows about this.

How does it feel?

It does feel like a weight has been lifted, but not the usual storybook type weight you’d imagine, just a feeling of reassurance that I’ve made a little (or big?) step further into recovery. The most significant thing I feel is that by each step like this I take (e.g. the milestones above), I feel like I’m putting my old acting out days further behind me, and putting more of a space between the old addict-me and the future in-recovery me. Each step makes it harder and harder for me to imagine slipping back into dark days of my addiction.

The next milestone?

What’s the next milestone? I think probably telling my in-laws. That’s going to be harder – they are emotionally attached to their daughter, are of an older generation, and are extra-protective of her right now as she is pregnant. Telling them that their daughter’s husband is a porn addict may be tough for them to hear, so my wife and I are mulling this one over to figure out the best way. We think they need to be told something because my wife is finding it harder and harder to hide the fact I’m going to SAA and therapy – she is close to her mum and she doesn’t like hiding things. We could perhaps tell them I’m getting help for an addiction, or just personal issues, but not be specific, but for me that’s just more secrecy so I think we’d have to go all the way. Watch this space.

So there we go. My wife, my sister and my brother-in-law now know about my addiction – that I am a recovering sex addict (specifically porn, but I think sex addict is the correct term as porn addiction is just one form of sex addiction). I feel more people are going to find out soon enough. I’m excited and scared at the same time, but I know I’m doing the right thing.