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 – “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.


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.

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.

Some general views on porn addiction

Every now and then I search twitter for things like “porn addiction” and “sex addicts anonymous” to see who’s talking about what. Generally the content seems to break down as follows:

  • Idiotic, insensitive jokes about sex addicts (e.g. “SAA must be the best place to get laid”) – 80%
  • Religious groups and others proclaiming how evil porn is – 15%
  • People opening or having genuine discussion about porn addiction – 4%
  • Sufferers talking about their addiction – 1%

Why is the last one so small? I think because porn addicts on twitter rarely tweet the words “porn addiction” – we talk about all sorts of feelings, motivations and other views, but don’t waste each tweet with self-evident phrases like that.

Anyway, I came across one guy, who actually works in the porn industry, asking about people’s views on porn addiction (WARNING: his twitter account is NSFW – if you are struggling with sex addiction DO NOT VISIT!). He gave me his email address, and I sent him the following (minus introduction and a bit about my own addiction):

Email to Naked Truth Podcast (a.k.a. @nakedtruthguy), 08/01/2015:

What is porn addiction?

I define an addiction as compulsive continuation of an activity in spite of the negative consequences that result from that activity. I.e. even though someone knows that they shouldn’t do something, and actively don’t want to do it for that reason, and they know that doing it will have negative impacts on their life, they still do it. It is a compulsion that overrides their sensibilities.

By that definition, there can be no doubt that porn is addictive. The numbers of people on twitter, on Facebook, attending 12-step groups, visiting therapists, going on tv, all show that there is something serious here that needs to be acknowledged, and that these people are desperate for support that is not readily available.

Why porn?

From what I’ve learned, I believe the following is true:

  • Porn is just one type of sexual activity that falls under the Sex Addiction banner. When talking about porn addiction, you’re really talking about one aspect of sex addiction. Often porn addicts are just sex addicts at an early stage of acting out. Like most addictions, the addict often needs a ‘bigger hit’ of the drug, so it is common for porn addicts to progress onto more serious and impactful activities like fetishes, prostitutes and cheating on partners.
  • Porn does something to the brain. There is a growing amount of research on this that I’m not close enough to refer to in detail, but essentially it refers to the dopamine hit that users get when watching porn (proven to be almost identical to the hit a drug user gets), and how the addict develops an immunity, requiring a bigger hit and therefore an increased level of ‘acting out’ with the addiction.
  • Sex addiction is a means of dealing with pain. It has very little to do with sex. That pain can be physical, emotional or otherwise, but acting out with sex addiction is a way to escape from pains and stresses of reality in an intense form of ‘self-love’. Of course, once the acting out is over, the temporary soothing effect is replaced by depression as the addict realises they’ve let themselves, and others, down once again. Often they will act out again just to escape from that refreshed pain, and so the cycle continues.
  • Porn is not a physical addiction, more a psychological one. The Your Brain On Porn site, and other research, talks about the hunter-gatherer caveman side of it. A porn addict will watch porn for hours and hours, constantly hunting for a better scene or the perfect scene to climax to. This is the mental equivalent of your brain seeking out the right partner, but the chemicals in your brain can’t tell the difference between real-life dopamine hits and those from porn, so it seeks out porn as it is easy. I’m probably not explaining this one very well – have a watch of this.

Not everyone is going to get addicted to porn

Because porn is used to deal with pain and get various mental highs, different people are affected differently. Just like many people can drink socially and not get addicted, so too can people watch porn and not get addicted. They probably have healthy ways of dealing with their pains, or perhaps unhealthy ways! Perhaps they don’t have a predisposition to addictive materials. Either way, because some/many/most people don’t get addicted to porn is not in itself proof that others can’t get addicted to it.

Beating sex addiction

Once you understand that you are addicted, you need to look into yourself and understand your own personal circumstances. On the basis porn/sex acting out is being used to numb and escape from pain, the addict needs to identify that pain and where it stems from, as well as what day-to-day triggers exist that may encourage acting out (arguments, feeling depressed/stressed etc), and start to rebalance their life. I.e. instead of using porn to escape stress, find other more healthy ways of dealing with that stress, and identify it earlier so you can avoid acting out. This is very hard to do alone, and is why 12-step groups and therapy is so useful. Others can help the addict identify things they may not have been able to do themselves. Some pains are buried deep.

The deniers

I admit I don’t quite understand the position that people like David Ley take. My cynical view is that they have simply found a controversial opinion that the masses enjoy hearing, and have built a career out of voicing it. My main concern is that regardless of whether porn is or is not addictive, these people are actively diverting attention away from the people who genuinely need help. They are quick to dismiss, and very slow to assist. There is no doubt in my mind that porn can be used as a method of dealing with pain and that people can become addicted to it. It is not physically addictive, like alcohol or drugs, but it is addictive nonetheless.

Our society and sex addiction

I feel our society is way behind in terms of comprehension, compassion and assistance regarding sex addiction. It is a taboo subject. Alcoholics and drug addicts can relatively easily admit to their addiction and expect support and general encouragement. There are plenty of public resources to help them beat their addiction. However, porn is generally a taboo subject regardless of addiction – so for those suffering from it, admitting this in public is drastically more difficult. People you tell will not even understand what you’re addicted to, or even know that porn can be addictive. The fact that I had to create anonymous accounts just to express my thoughts on the addiction speaks volumes – I genuinely worried about keeping my job and general social dignity by admitting this addiction (although I am preparing to start telling people in my life this year as I want to remove the shame and secrecy).

Just look at the 2014 stats from PornHub. 78.9 billion porn videos viewed in the year!! 18.35 billion total visits. That’s 35,000 site hits a minute. Let that sink in, then think about how many people actively talk about porn in daily life. There is a HUGE discrepancy. People don’t talk about porn, but clearly far more people than are letting on are visiting and watching porn regularly. So how can we possibly have a good understanding of the levels of porn addiction if we can’t even talk about it? You can be addicted to porn in secret. You can’t stay up all night getting drunk or taking drugs without eventually some exterior signs showing.

How can people like David Ley possibly assume to have a good understanding of porn addiction, and go so far as to make judgements and assertions, when there are literally billions of people looking at porn who aren’t admitting it!?

The industry is not taking responsibility

I feel like the porn industry is on course for the same wake-up call that the tobacco industry had. Remember that internet porn is only 20 years old. We’re still in generation 1 of porn addicts – i.e. those like me who started getting hooked right when internet porn first started existing. Who knows what level of openness and impact our society will experience regarding porn over the coming generations? Either way, I think, or at least I really hope, that the porn industry is legally forced to take more responsibility for its output. I am by no means a porn-anti – I don’t think it should be banned, but I think the potential risks must be made clear. Just like the cancer ads on cigarette packets, I see a future where porn websites require you to state that porn is addictive if not used carefully.

Unfortunately, just like the tobacco companies, the porn industry itself is going to not only deny any addictiveness, but they are going to actively fight against any progress made on this front. This site says the porn industry is generating $2.8b a year. This seems low to me, but regardless, if that number is threatened, the people earning the big bucks are going to do whatever it takes (think lobbying, lies etc) to protect their revenue, regardless of the impact on people’s health. It is really sad, but there’s no way we can look to the industry to ‘do the right thing’ – they’ll need to be forced by law.

Our schools are not educating

Sex education currently does not include talking about the risks of excessive porn use. It needs to. Our society needs to wake up and take responsibility for the biggest elephant in the room that we’ve ever seen. Education is our strongest defence against future addicts being created. If I knew that porn was addictive when I started looking at it nightly as a teenager, would I have been more careful? I actively avoided smoking because I knew it was harmful, things may have been different if I knew the risks. Regardless, if the risks exist, our schools and parents have a responsibility to educate against them. What’s the harm? It can’t hurt to say “porn can be harmful if used in excess and can become addictive” – we aren’t we telling our kids this?

Christmas Eve 2014

Its Christmas Eve and I’m full of thoughts.

I suppose it is inherently a time of reflection but for me my current situation in life has left me to perhaps be more reflective than usual.

I went to my second 12-step meeting yesterday, and the majority of people who shared expressed worry about getting through the Christmas period. I remember thinking at the time that this doesn’t really apply to me as I don’t consider Christmas to be a time of weakness, but I’ve been unexpectedly hit by it in a different way.

My mum died about 14 months ago. Last Christmas was pretty terrible but at least my sister, brother-in-law, wife and gran were here with me and my dad. This year, it is just me and my dad. We’ll be having Christmas Day at my 96 year-old grandmother’s house as she has become too frail to leave the house.

So I’m feeling pretty down. Thoughts about my mum, my gran and also some clarity over the relationship I have with my dad. He harbours his own secrets. Cannabis and sexual activity (porn, maybe more) I think, but we’ve never spoken about it. Just like my days of old, he lives a successful and social life, but I suspect he has secrets that no-one knows, and he appears to be ok with that. I think he’s probably past the point of having a desire to reflect and change his ways, and I have no desire to visit these areas of his life with him.

However, I am currently in the process of trying to understand how I can remove the shame and secrecy from my addiction and my life. This means formulating a plan to start telling people about my addiction, and living a singular, honest life that includes my addiction, rather than keeping it secret. Unfortunately, being at home with my dad has made me stare into the face of someone doing the opposite – unable to share any form of honest emotion with their son and content to hide secrets and keep up appearances. I don’t see any way I can further my relationship with my dad while this dynamic remains, and taking it a step further I could say that interacting with him may actually be a detrimental activity for me. That’s a strong thing to say so I’ll sleep on it.

So what’s next? Well, my predictions / goals for 2015 are:

  • I will become a dad in February
  • I will continue going to 12 step groups, become more familiar with the programme and start to see some tangible improvements in my life, especially in the duration of my periods of abstinence
  • I will start to tell people about my addiction, including my sister

I feel like I am going through a mental upheaval – revisiting almost all areas of my life to assess the state I am in today and who “I” really am. The goal being to restore balance to my life and adjust specific areas in order to compensate for the loss of my addictive behaviour. I don’t think I fully appreciate the extent to which this will change my daily life (for example, I received two phone calls today from 12-step attendees I met last night, just checking in on me. That could be a daily occurrence for the next x months or years…!). But change is good and I will embrace it.

I don’t know better. There is so much help out there if I seek it out and allow it into my life. It will just take commitment, courage and humility, and if I can’t offer those things in my life, what sort of life will I really be living?

Happy Christmas everyone. I wish you all a wonderful holiday and a fulfilling and empowered 2015.

The Identities of an Addict

Recently I have become more and more aware of the separation I feel between the ‘outer’ me – that people see and interact with – and the ‘inner’ me, that is constantly aware of my struggle with porn and the fact that those I am speaking with have no idea about this secret of mine.

Despite being regarded as a very outgoing and socially capable person, I often feel very isolated internally when I am with other people, because I am so conscious of this secret. I have also started to slowly admit that despite my ‘socialness’, I have actually very few, if any, close friends. At least not any that I see with any regularity. I have good friends that I see maybe once a month, but that’s about as good as it gets.

In thinking about why this might be, (and credit to a new therapist I have been visiting), the notion arose that I may be subconsciously struggling to build these relationships because of the knowledge that no-one is really getting to know the ‘full’ me – they are always shielded from the fact I have an addiction (because I don’t tell them).

One of the benefits I think I will get out of going to a 12 step group like SAA is the ability to meet people who, for the first time in my life, will be able to get to know all of me – warts and all. They’ll know what I’m going through and vice versa, and there will be no hidden agenda or pre-occupation (hopefully).

I’m quietly quite excited about this prospect. Of being able to speak to another human being without permanently having to remember I’m hiding something from them and worrying about saying something that may give away my secret.

Merging the two identities

Leading on from this, I now need to consider what my life will be like in recovery (not that I’m doing very well at recovery at the moment). I.e. I think I need to start defining myself as an addict, rather than as a normal everyday person with a dirty secret. I need to stop living two lives – one being the normal guy that people know and like, and the other being a shameful and embarrassed porn addict.

So I think I’ve decided I’m going to start telling people, with the goal being to, at some point in the future, be living a relatively open and honest existence whereby people know I’m a porn addict and it isn’t something I actively try to hide from people.

This is obviously a huge step but I think it will be a powerful one that could really deflate the shameful feelings associated with the addiction and allow me to continue to tackle it in a healthy way and start growing a single identity of who I really am.

The question is who to tell! And when. I rarely get the time to spend with any of my friends one-2-one for a period of time, so I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m working on it.

A pretty detailed account of my (porn) life

Today, while browsing r/NoFap, I came across a video called “Share Your Story” by a guy (supposedly) called Noah Church. Watching his other videos, he’s an articulate and charismatic ex-porn addict who is spreading the word about addiction and providing help to those still struggling with it (here’s probably his best video – a 20 minute entertaining speech about his journey).

In the comment of the video, he recommended r/NoFap and also the Your Brain Rebalanced forum, as great places to share your story, and actively encouraged doing so.

So, I headed over to Your Brain Rebalanced to see what’s what. There I found a very active community of people so I set to work writing my ‘introduction’. This turned out to be a ~3,000 word account of my life from a porn perspective, from school, to adulthood, to the admission of my addiction to both myself and my wife, through to the present day and my thoughts and current actions regarding recovery.

I may post it separately on this blog as a record, but for now, here’s a link:

By way of introduction, my story so far

Trauma, Self-Esteem and a Hypothesis

There are two aspects to beating porn addiction – the physical process of abstinence and the methods of doing so, and understanding the psychological background and context that has led to the addiction. They say that to really explore the latter, you need to achieve the former. This post is about the latter.

Ever since reading Paula Hall’s excellent book Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction, and having a short conversation with her skype-to-skype, I’ve been very interested in exploring my childhood and other environmental factors of my youth that may have led me to porn addiction – factors that hadn’t previously occurred to me.


One key area to explore is trauma. Trauma comes in various guises, from the obvious (e.g. child abuse), to the more subtle (e.g. lack of the required dosage of love and affection as a child, separation from parents, etc). Having spent most of my pubescent life in boarding school (from age 8 to 19), the concept that this itself could be considered ‘a traumatic event’ was intriguing to me. I have always told anyone that would listen that I wouldn’t send my kids to boarding school, primarily because I want to be the person they come home to and talk to about their day. For me, for 11 years, that person was a House Master, Matron, or most often no-one. I had a very formal relationship with my parents and we did not talk about anything too personal, and still don’t. They were masters of ‘keeping up appearances’ at the expense of honesty and emotion, but I never judged them for it – they are from a different generation.

Self-esteem and self-worth

So what has any of this got to do with porn addiction? Well, the last few weeks have revealed other areas of my psyche that relate to this and provide further context. Firstly, my wife sent me packing for 2 days to do some thinking, and one of the key things that dawned on me is that I have pretty low self-esteem. I genuinely don’t consider myself that interesting a person, and am confused as to why, for example, a daughter would look up to me. I don’t think I’m worthy of being a father, and generally consider my contribution to this planet as minimal. Low self-esteem is a good recipe for destructive behaviour, so this is an interesting area for me to explore in terms of understanding my porn addiction.

In addition, as a soon-to-be dad, I have been reading Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph, and one of the first things he talks about is how the most fundamentally important thing for a child is to receive copious amounts of love from its parents. Babies are by default in a state of ‘panic’ and need constant re-assuring and calming, so they know that everything is ok and they are loved, which gives them the future confidence to go out into the world and explore. Without that love, they will not have the same levels of courage, and an inner doubt can manifest. Now I’m not saying I wasn’t loved as a kid, but it is interesting to consider whether living away from my parents for 11 years may have had an impact on my own self-worth.

False confidence

People who know me regard me as confident and outgoing, able to strike up a conversation with anyone. My wife envies that in me as she is ‘shy’ in social situations (she’s actually just got a lot of self-confidence and so doesn’t feel the need to make small talk – something I envy in her). I, on the other hand, have always considered this confident persona quite artificial and fake, and not the ‘real’ me. Quite what the ‘real’ me is I’m not sure, but I feel as a result I have lots of short-term and shallow conversations/relationships and hardly any long-term deep ones. As an example, I don’t really have a single friend who I see regularly, or who would notice if I wasn’t around, at least not for a month or so. This reinforces my opinion that I’m just not that interesting, or nice, a person.

So to tie it all back to porn addiction, what I am exploring here is the sort of person I am, the upbringing I had, my view of myself, and my interpretation of my relationships with others, and how all of this could fit together to create a state of mind that may lead to addiction. If addictions are a way to numb negative emotions and escape from personal troubles (consciously or unconsciously), then I owe it to myself to understand what it really is that I’m trying to escape from or avoid with porn. I’ve always thought it was general adulthood responsibility, but I’m starting to think I may have deeper issues with my own self-worth that may be encouraging me to seek solitude in porn.

A working hypothesis, based on the above

How about this:

A prolonged period (11 years) of separation from a loving family home, combined with life in the bullying culture of a boarding school, contributed to the formulation of an overly confident persona that allowed deeper emotional shortcomings to remain unresolved. This, combined with the usual teenage desire to rebel against authority (which in my case was the school regime of being told what to do from waking ’til sleeping), the perfectly-timed arrival of the internet and the porn it contained, and the on-set of puberty, was the perfect storm of escapism, allowing me to find solace in staying up at my computer for hours after ‘lights out’, watching porn and feeling superior in my rebellion, while unintentionally prohibiting the emotional development that I needed in order to avoid what has resulted in a low self-valuation and the continued regression into addiction.

Lots to digest! And who knows I may be barking up the wrong tree, but this feels like an important process to go through.

Now what?

And then of course, the question is – how to resolve it!? One idea I’ve had, to counter my low opinion of my impact on this planet, is to to volunteer in my community. My two main skills are guitar and IT, so if I could give kids free guitar lessons, or go round people’s homes and fix their computers, I think that would make me feel like I am making a (albeit small) contribution to other people’s lives. Sure, its a bit of a selfish reason, but better that than not helping at all right?

I think I also need to truly accept that I am loved, and that I am not inherently a bad of worthless person, but that perhaps I’ve just not made the right choices and prioritisations. Addressing the emotional connection with my parents will be the hardest part, as my mum died last year and my dad has his own issues to deal with, and I really have no desire to try and have any form of emotional conversation with him about any of this.

Seeking support from others though will be crucial, either via a 12 step program, an admission to a friend of family member, or private therapy. I am booking a couple therapist to go and see with my wife, as the group therapy course I had pinned my hopes on isn’t starting now until January.

A Note About Porn Blocks

I’ve written extensively about porn blocks on this blog. For a time I thought they were the answer – a way of physically preventing me from watching porn, and therefore achieving the abstinence that it is of course the goal of this whole thing.

Unfortunately, for me at least, porn blocks have done more harm than good, in the following ways:

  1. They are not fool-proof, and I am very good at computers. Whatever solution I found, I found a workaround for. I would then figure out a technical way of preventing that workaround next time, but I would quickly find another. You would be amazed at some of the convoluted and complex steps that I went through to get even a single porn image to load.
  2. They divert focus from what matters. Instead of concentrating on improving my mindfulness and willpower and other mental exercises to strengthen myself against temptation, I simply sat back and relied on the porn blocks. This meant that not only was I not improving my mental stance at all, but as soon as I found a workaround, I would instantly relapse, as I had no mental strength to withstand it.
  3. I spent my whole time trying to break them. When you’ve given in and are looking for porn, it is already too late – you’ve lost that particular battle. The battle against porn needs to be fought at the temptation stage, not later. But with blocks in place, the process of finding porn became almost a game. I would spend hours trying to find loopholes and workarounds, which was almost more exhilarating than the actual payoff.
  4. They gave a false sense of security. Each time I plugged a workaround, I genuinely believed I had ‘found the last loophole’, and I would tell me wife this. But each time I found a way to act out, it caused additional stress on my wife and I as we went through the technical process of evaluating the loophole and her relying on me to block it. The blocks made me think like I was ‘beating’ the addiction, but I wasn’t, I was simply postponing, or diverting, it.
  5. It was too onerous on my wife. My wife held the keys to my digital life. I had set her up as the admin on my PC. I had installed blocking software which only she knew the password to. I had prevented myself from installing apps on my phone without her approval. All of this required her to enter a password, which she would do 10 times a night while I went about my normal computing activities. She didn’t enjoy it, and the continued relapsing made her feel it wasn’t worth it anyway.

So, in the end, we gave up and removed all the blocks. On the basis that I was always going to find some kind of workaround, the additional stress involved in managing the blocks, and the distraction they were causing by preventing me from focussing on mindfulness, wasn’t worth it.

I now have no blocks installed. For the first week I have succumbed quite a lot to times on my own due to the new-found novelty, but things are coming to a head and that now needs to change.