addiction

Status Update – more content blocking!

So September is nearly upon us and looking back, August has been probably the toughest month I’ve had to deal with in relation to porn addiction. My anxiety and stress levels have been through the roof, yet I’ve been relapsing at the same regularity as before, so all in all I’m finding it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But that hasn’t meant I’ve stopped trying, and one key change I’ve made, and continually refined upon, is implementing a holistic method to block my ability to watch porn on my laptop, tablet and phone. This is only addressing the means, rather than the motivation, but the aim is to help me get to a period of sobriety, which in turn will improve my mental state and increase my chances of a longer-term recovery.

So here’s the current setup (following one from my previous posts on the matter):

  • Enabled Sky’s (my broadband provider) content filter by enabling through their admin panel. As I have a Sky login (to use their services like remote record), I technically can disable this filter, but if I do, my wife automatically receives an email. By enabling this filter, all porn served to any home device via my broadband connection is blocked, and the filter works very well. There is one workaround to this though:
  • Using a VPN/proxy server. A VPN is a way of bypassing your ISP’s content block, by requesting web pages via a different domain service than the one your ISP uses. I happen to have a VPN to my work network setup on my personal laptop, so I can easily work from home, and my company does not filter porn on their network for some reason. So the only way to block porn delivered via the VPN is to install software on my laptop which will block porn locally, regardless of what internet connectivity has been used. I have opted to use K9 Web Protection, which does a very good job. My wife owns the password and it blocks all porn and also image searches, unless you use its own safe image search. I am still an admin on my laptop, which means I am technically able to force-delete appropriate system files to disable this block, but it is laborious and combined with the steps below, I’m hoping removing my admin rights won’t be necessary.
  • Enabled Apple’s adult content restriction on my iPad and iPhone. This is a very strict block that prevents a lot of websites from being shown on my phone, but better to be safe than sorry. Again, content is blocked regardless of whether I use a VPN or not, and it applies to almost all 3rd party apps as their built-in browsers essentially just use the  built-in Safari engine. In addition, I have deleted all apps on my phone that can access images or porn, like Reddit and Google Search, and have disabled the App Store so I can’t download 3rd party browsers.

So I am at a point where it is basically impossible to look at porn on my phone or iPad, and the only way to do it on my laptop is to force-delete the K9 software and use my work VPN (where all my access is recorded) to watch porn. There is a huge risk of me using my work VPN, in that I could lose my job.

In addition, I have put in place two additional safeguards into my daily routine. As the most common times for me to watch porn, or try to, are in the morning after my wife has left for work and in the evening after she’s gone to bed, I’ve suggested to her that from now on I get up and leave the house with her (no more lying in bed as she leaves) and go to bed with (no more staying up late). These steps should hopefully compensate for the fact that technically there is a workaround, albeit a laborious and job-risking one, still available.

One key thing I’ve noticed is that the more I implement technical blocks of porn, the more I rely on these blocks as my method of abstaining. This has meant that each time I find a workaround, I go full on and relapse immediately to take advantage of it, then afterwards I plug that workaround and the process continues. By relying so much on the blocks, it has reduced the emphasis on building up my own mental fortifications against temptation. My most successful periods of abstinence have been in the past before I implemented a single block, and now I’ve got blocks enabled, I’m relapsing more frequently as I spend my whole time trying to break them (and often succeeding), rather than spending time building my mental strength and strategies. Now I have basically got the blocks sorted, I need to revisit these original mental techniques to start focussing on resisting temptation and improving my mental well-being, rather than just focussing on the technicals.

I must mention my wife as well – she has been hugely supportive. My stress levels have been borderline depression during my recent relapses and she’s been open to all my suggestions and has supported me all the way. She’s 4 months pregnant and so I feel terrible to be putting her through this but I don’t see any other way – she has to be involved. It is so hard to admit to her when I fail because I know how disappointed it makes her, and it is embarrassing for me, as well as being genuinely hard to do because after I relapse I tend to be at my lowest mental point – depressed, deflated, disappointed with myself, so to then admit this to someone else who will add to the disappointment is hard. But it needs ot be done and she hasn’t let her disappointment flow over into negativity – we always discuss why it happened and what can be done to prevent it again.

So there we have it. This is probably a few blog posts wrapped up into one but I just wanted to get a few things written down. I’m hoping this will be useful or interesting reading for someone at some point in the future!

Blocking porn in my house: how to do it right

When I first started taking my porn addiction seriously, one of my first steps was to implement a content block in my household, to prevent me from being able to watch porn, even if I wanted to. I wrote about the various technical steps in doing this in this post. The basic premise was to apply content blocking at the ISP level (e.g. your internet provider like BT or Sky), rather than at a device level, as this applies the block holistically to the entire house and all devices automatically.

The problem was that I found a workaround, and after a while I just reverted the block as it wasn’t working because of this workaround. Additionally, I felt that simply blocking porn without addressing the underlying desire was just a plaster – it wasn’t addressing the root issues.

However, during my second therapy session, my counsellor advised that although I am right – blocking alone isn’t enough and is just a plaster – it is a good way of helping to achieve a period of abstinence from porn, which is a key step in the recovery process. He advised revisiting the content block solution and so I have done, and this time I’ve plugged the workaround and am pleased to say I now am entirely unable to access porn at home.

The following is a bit technical, but may serve as a useful guide for any others wanting to block porn at home

There are two ways of blocking porn at home. One is by installing software on all of your devices that monitors what the user is doing and prevents any pornographic images or websites from being shown. The second is to apply a similar block higher up the chain, at the ISP level (Sky, BT, Virgin Media), that blocks all porn to all devices in the house. The problem with the first option is that most mobile devices, certainly Apple devices, don’t allow for such software to be installed in the first place.

So my preferred method was to implement the block higher up the internet food chain, so that my any device in my house, regardless of make or model or software, could not access porn. This method is known as a DNS-level block. DNS is a standard method of locating websites over the internet. When you type in a friendly website name like google.com, your ISP takes that name and performs what is known as a DNS lookup, which essentially converts that friendly name into a specific IP address on the web where that website content can be loaded from. When you enable a DNS block, your ISP essentially adds some rules to that lookup service that ensures that if a porn site is requested, instead of looking that site up and showing it to the user, it simply does nothing (well actually it redirects to an information page saying the page has been blocked).

It looks a bit like this:

ISP-level porn block

The tricky bit is that there are many different DNS lookup services out there that all do mostly the same thing, and it is very easy to re-configure your laptop or phone to use them instead of the one that your ISP uses. Google operate a public, free DNS service for example. So for example, if I change the DNS lookup server setting on my laptop to use Google’s service instead of my ISP’s, when I type in a porn website’s name that my ISP is blocking, instead of asking my ISP for the website and receiving a blocked warning, my laptop simply asks a different company for the website address, bypassing my ISP’s name lookup service and gets the full site in return.

So how to fix this? Well I discovered that it is possible to block non-ISP DNS lookups. You do this by reconfiguring your router, and this means that your router can detect if you are trying to use a DNS service other than your ISP’s, and block the traffic completely until you remove the bypass. To do this, you first need to identify your ISP’s DNS service IP addresses (Sky’s are 90.207.238.97 and 90.207.238.99). You then need to add port forwarding rules to your router to block access to port 53 to all public IP addresses other than these IPs. So for me, I created three block rules in my router:

1. 0.0.0.0 to 90.207.238.97

2. 90.207.238.98

3. 90.207.238.100 to 255.255.255.255

This means that the only two IP addresses that my router will allow port 53 to be accessed, which is the port used by all DNS lookup services, are the two provided by my ISP.

The final step was to allow my wife to change the admin password on my router so I can’t log in and remove these rules! This is now done, and I am now unable to bypass my ISP’s content block!

Feel free to get in touch if you’d like more info on this or some help on how to set this up in your house. The only drawbacks is that it doesn’t block porn on your laptop if you connect to a different wifi network, so if you think that is a risk for you, you may want to consider also installing blocking software on the laptop itself. It won’t help for your phone or tablet though but for me blocking at home is removing 90% of the chance of me watching porn.

Monthly report: July 2014

I have been recording in a Google Calendar my daily progress. A green :) goes if I did not look at porn that day, otherwise it gets a red X. At the end of each month, I total up the number of days clean as a percentage of total days in the month, with the goal being to see this percentage increase as each month goes by. This is a slightly longer-term view of recovery, rather than just trying to go cold-turkey and then feel like a failure when you slip up (see post Status Update – Taking a longer view for more on this).

So here’s the summary for July 2014:

Porn Recovery Progress - July 2014

The stats

Month Total Days Day clean % of month clean
July 31 21 68%

Thoughts

I generally don’t think I did that well in July. It started off well, which was my best streak from when I first restarted my drive to quit officially (which was on 30th June), but then it started declining throughout the month. Still, it is a line in the sand and something to build upon.

Private therapy session #2 take-away

Today I had my second private therapy session with a sex addiction counsellor. I had decided to go down the counselling route for two reasons: 1) self-motivation wasn’t working and 2) I started to appreciate that to fix my addiction, I’d have to really understand the underlying psychological reasons for it; something I would likely not be able to work out on my own (for more on this, see my previous post).

I’m not going to go into detail about these sessions but I do want to share any interesting topics of conversation, tips or techniques (let’s call them ‘take-aways’) that arise, that may help others in similar struggles as me.

The first take-away, from my first session, is already described above – that trying to just quit porn without addressing the underlying causes of the addiction is like putting a plaster on a wound that needs stitches. It will help in the short-term, but until you address the root problem, you’ll never fully heal.

My take-away from session #2 is:

Getting into a period of ‘sobriety’ is an important early step on the road to recovery.

I’m sure this sounds pretty obvious, but there is a reason why this was significant for me. To explain some background, I had previously tried many steps to force sobriety from porn – for example enabling content blocks through my ISP and phone providers and having my wife change the passwords to my router (see past post Stage 2 – Implementing the content block). However, I quickly found technical workarounds to some of these blocks and so they didn’t really work in the end. I eventually gave up, with the reasoning that these blocks were only the plaster – they prohibited me from watching porn but they didn’t stop me wanting to watch porn, which to me was the more important element that needed to be addressed.

Counselling is going to help me this element of understanding the root cause of my addiction. However, one of the things my therapist told me today was that getting into a period of abstinence from porn is a very important step in getting towards the improved mental state that will be vital to the recovery process. And so, if that means using temporary methods like content blocks etc, to help get to that period of abstinence, so be it. They may not be the end-game solution, but they help you get there.

So tonight, with my wife, we have re-enabled the content blocks from our ISP (broadband provider) and 3G networks. There is still a way for me to bypass the ISP block but in order to plug that gap I am going to need to replace my router. I’ll write more about this in a separate post once I’ve made the changes and tested them.

Take-away #2:

If there are triggers you are aware of that you are able to prevent, then do it

Another obvious-sounding piece of advice but only by really thinking about it did I realise something obvious. I have always known that the day after heavy drinking or smoking weed leaves me really horny. I don’t know why, but I love watching porn when slightly hungover from either of these drugs. So my therapist advised – stop drinking and smoking! Obviously these are only pieces of advice (he can’t force me to do it), but depending on how serious I am to be with this, I can take steps to remove certain activities that I know lead to increased likelihood of temptation. So this would mean no more drinking or weed smoking, which should be interesting! I haven’t quite committed to this yet, but am going to have to think about it. My motto these days is “whatever it takes“, so on that basis I am probably going to have to consider these options very seriously.

The journey of discovery continues…

Taking the next step – professional help

One common theme amongst most people who have made significant progress in their porn addiction recovery, especially from those who have beaten it, is that they have all had professional help.

So acknowledging that self-help, while beneficial, was not delivering the results for me that I wanted, I contacted a professional sex/porn addiction psycho-therapist, and today had my first Skype conversation/assessment with them.

It was really interesting and I’m really glad I did it. I will almost certainly join a group therapy session of some kind off the back of this.

Here are some of the most interesting ideas that I took away from the call:

  • There are (at least) two elements to the beating of porn addiction (“think” and “do” I made up just for the sake of articulation):
    • THINK – Exploring your background and childhood to understand why you look at porn. It is unlikely to just be “because porn is addictive”. You may be using porn as a means of dealing with something subconscious, a past trauma, or in my case (maybe) a means of escaping from responsibilities and a relic of childhood rebellion from a prolonged period of living under a tight regime of authority.
    • DO – Practical methods to stop – Having understood why the individual is using porn, understand their personal triggers and put in place the tools to break the addictive cycle, as well as finding new things in your life that compensate and help the brain adjust.
  • Self-help methods (blogging, tweeting, online porn gurus etc) are all useful, but they only operate at a generic level. Without in-depth knowledge and assessment of an individual’s specific background and circumstances, it is impossible for online resources to truly get to the bottom of why you look at porn, and so they can only (partially) help at the DO phase – helping you quit using porn, but even then they can’t apply tools tailored to your own personal triggers and situation.
  • Actually quitting using porn is almost pointless if you don’t simultaneously understand the THINK phase – why you are using porn. If you don’t understand this, you’ll simply find something else to satisfy whatever it is that was driving you to porn.
  • You can’t put fixes in place for things you aren’t aware of. Hence the need to uncover all the sub-conscious goings-on that are making you use porn, in order to remedy them.
  • Your addiction might not have anything to do with porn! Porn is an addictive entity just like many others, and you may simply have found porn at the right time to fill whatever psychological issue was developing inside you at the time. This is very apparent with me as I used to use cannabis in almost exactly the same way as I did porn – as a means of escaping from responsibilities. I’ve just fortunately managed to have controlled that addiction by avoiding it, which is impossible to do with porn.
  • Triggers are more than just stimulating images. Triggers can be moods, experiences or other influences in your life that may push you towards addictive behaviours. You won’t fully understand these triggers until you fully understand why you are addicted to porn.

I think I was lucky in my first session in that the counsellor, within about 15 minutes, had honed in on a part of my childhood that had probably triggered the porn addiction process. I’m not going to go into detail as it was only an initial chat and I don’t want to jump to premature conclusions, but it really highlighted the importance of allowing someone to delve into your past and your present on a personal basis, rather than just approaching porn addiction in a generic ‘let’s try and quit porn, regardless of why you are using it’ way.

All I can say is, if you are really serious about quitting porn, you should talk to a professional. They work with people like you every day and can recognise things in you that you probably don’t even know yourself, and they can help.

It is not nearly as daunting as it seems.

Facebook doesn’t want anonymous accounts

Addictions are hard to discuss in public and to be open about. Recovery is a long, multi-step journey, which may or may not include admitting the addiction publicly.

The internet has the potential to be an invaluable resource to those battling an addiction, in order to communicate with others in similar positions and seek help from professionals, but it requires even greater care with regards to personal privacy when using it for these purposes. Some sites seem to, perhaps indirectly, acknowledge and support this. Others, like Facebook I have just found out, less so.

For me, I have carefully created anonymous (I hope) Twitter, Reddit and WordPress accounts for this very purpose. I can blog, tweet, share thoughts and tips, ask questions, get motivation and seek support about porn addiction, all without worrying about sharing with the public who I really am!

One of the people I follow on Twitter (Feed The Right Wolf) linked to his Facebook page in order to invite people to join a proposed support network he was setting up. Sounded like a good idea, but I wasn’t going to connect using my real Facebook account now was I!? So I set up a new account, and I was required to enter my real name. Facebook even has some rudimentary fake name detection so it instantly rejected my attempt to use my “Healing My Brain” alias, however it did tell my I could change my name to an alias after my account is set up. Knowing Facebook’s track record in privacy, I wasn’t taking any chances so I entered “Dave Matthews”, a favourite musician of mine. Once in, I went straight to my account page to change the account name to purely Healing My Brain, only to be met with the message “you can only hide your real name after 60 days“. Thanks for telling me that after I had created my account Facebook.

Thank god I didn’t use my real name, as it would now be listed on Facebook against my porn-related posts.

The reason why social and other advertising-based websites want you to use your real name is that it increases the value of the profile they generate about you, which they sell to marketers and advertisers to fuel their business.

However, Facebook is of such a scale that it can serve a higher purpose. Those of us who can hugely benefit from its service but must do so anonymously are currently not supported by Facebook. This is a real shame. I am effectively breaking Facebook’s terms of service by using a fake name, and I suppose they could shut my account down if they really cared, but I’m going with it anyway – do they really care about my details that much? They are already gaining all the info they need from my real account, so why not allow me to have an anonymous account that I can use to help beat my addiction by connecting with other organisations who are already active on the network? Its easy for these organisations to be public, but much less so for the addicts who are making their first tentative steps into the world of admission and support. Forcing people to do it with their real names is going to seriously reduce (or totally eliminate?) the numbers of people who will willingly seek support under their real identity.

Of course, the question of whether porn addiction should be such a taboo that people don’t want to share their identities is a whole other topic. Ideally we live in a world where porn and its risks are talked about openly, but we are not there yet, so let’s not force people down a path that society hasn’t even accepted yet.

Here’s a link to my new Facebook profile page, if you’re interested!

Still here

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged or tweeted, and that only means one thing… I’ve been back on the porn. If I go silent, that’s what it means, as if I’m succeeding, I’m going to want to talk about it!

But I’m re-energised and re-motivated to try again. I’m engaging a lot more with people on Twitter, to keep the fight at the forefront of my mind. I am reminding myself to not get complacent. I am telling myself truths throughout the day to remind me why I’m doing it, that I’m a better person for it, and what to watch out for.

So far so good. Tomorrow morning will be 5 days in. Sounds like nothing, but feels like a lot. Its been ok so far though – I’ve been having plenty of fun with my wife so the physical urges are being kept at bay – I am prepared for when we don’t have sex for a while – that will be the hard part. But I’m ready for it. It’s time to take control of my life and stop being a slave to urges, routines and impulses. There are bigger things at stake.

Easier said than done perhaps. I have said this before.

We’ll see. I’m feeling mentally empowered. I feel counselling is close if I don’t beat this on my own, and that is a real sign of defeat, or at least a direct acknowledgement that I am unable to beat this on my own, and I hate that thought – the thought I am totally not in control of my life and need someone’s help. I MUST be able to do this on my own, surely….?

Previously I tried internet blocks etc. Those were distractions. They didn’t address the core issue of my desire to watch porn; they just made it harder, avoiding the problem and not dealing with it. This time there’s no blocks or anything. Temptation and gratification is just a few taps away all the time. Wherever I am, there is the potential for porn – such is the life of an addict in the 21st century. 

The one thing I haven’t done is talk about it with my wife. It is so hard on her and she clearly prefers avoiding the subject. She must know I still watch porn and accepts it. That is the level of love she has for me and she deserves better. But I want to make progress on my own. I don’t want to tell her I have a problem; I want to tell her I have a solution. Or at least that I am addressing it and making progress. If I can get to 1 month, maybe I’ll tell her. She knows about this blog though but I have no idea if she reads it – I don’t mind if she finds out through here.

Onwards!

Considering options to block porn on my devices

I am considering, and very likely going to implement, some form of porn-blocking method that I could implement across all devices I use. If I could successfully do this, that would be a massive helping hand in the effort to break my porn habit, as I literally would not be able to watch it, even if I tried.

The options I can think of, from the top of my head, are:

  • Install specialist porn-blocking 3rd party browsers/plugins on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air
  • Install a router-level blocking technology on my Airport Extreme
  • Employ a DNS-level blocker

Each will have their pros and cons. A router-level block won’t stop me from switching to 3G to circumvent it, so that’s out. Browsers are a good option, but obviously mean I lose all the functionality I get from using my current browsers. DNS-level blocking is also interesting but I’m not sure what the implications are – my phone is provided by my company and I’m not sure what impact changing these sorts of settings would be.

Obviously in addition to the above, I need to ensure that any methods I could use to undo any restrictions is locked down, most likely by letting my girlfriend choose the password.

If anyone has had any success with any of these options, or any other method, I’d be interested to hear about it.

The porn fix vs the sex fix

One side-effect of porn that is widely discussed is that it can interfere with your enjoyment of real sex. Generally speaking, this, fortunately, has not been a problem for me. My sex drive has always been really high and so I always enjoy sex with my girlfriend, and porn rarely enters my mind during it.

However, the last 24 hours have given me cause for concern that this may be changing.

Yesterday, day 9 of the latest porn-free stint, I returned home from work and looked at porn. I didn’t go any further; I just looked. It was like I was trying to get my fix while pretending I was avoiding the repercussions. After 5 minutes I’d close the browser and go back to whatever I was doing, only to open another private browsing tab a few minutes later. This lasted about an hour, and as you can imagine I was a bit worked up by the end of it.

My girlfriend returned home and I didn’t tell her. I did, however, make it quite clear I was in the mood that evening and as events transpired, I ‘got lucky’. However, despite achieving what should have been the cure to my woes that evening, I was still not satisfied. I still wanted to look at porn. Which I did, and this time I gave in, and the urge was gone.

Obviously this is just an utter mess of irresponsibility, manipulation of my girlfriend, and setbacks regarding the journey of quitting. It was almost promising that I was able to restrain myself from physical action when initially looking at porn, but the rest of the events of the evening proved that was irrelevant.

Today I admitted all this to her as I can’t keep it a secret. And now she’s gone to bed without me and I’m here blogging about it on my laptop, feeling utterly ashamed, embarrassed, angry and a cocktail of plenty other emotions.

So, to get back to the title of this post “the porn fix vs the sex fix”, what was most interesting was how sex did not satisfy my urge to look at porn. I think that previously, while I was looking at porn regularly, I never noticed this because the urge was always under the radar. However, having gone 9 days without porn, that urge was stronger and I think that highlighted how relieving it seems to satisfy a different part of me/my brain than sex.

This is of course quite worrying, but arms me with some more knowledge I can hopefully use to control this addiction.

As the days without porn have continued, I’ve felt stronger urges to look at it. This made me realise that by simply not watching porn, all I’m doing is using willpower to restrain myself, but I’m not actually addressing the core issue. I need to be training myself not to want to look at porn. Do I do this just by not looking at it for a sufficiently long period of time, or do I do it via other means? Reading & education as an example. A commenter of this blog godtisx suggested reading stories from ex-porn stars speak out against the industry, to encourage me to break the fantasy, and I’ll certainly consider this.

I’m really worried about the damage I may be causing our relationship. I don’t know how much my girlfriend can put up with and I don’t really know what effect this is having on her deep down. I just know that I’m not improving as fast as I need to be, and need to start thinking of more pro-active measures.

The fact that things have been great between us for 7 years while this was a secret, and are difficult now I’m being honest, is the cruelest of ironies.

Rediscovering myself

This weekend my girlfriend is out of town. I was faced with the prospect of two days on my own, obviously with the goal of not watching porn. This is my first major test.

To provide some context, in a similar situation in the past I would have earmarked the entire weekend for porn watching. This would mean I probably wouldn’t go out and do anything productive or meet any friends, and I would revert and escape into the self-indulgent world of porn.

Fortunately, I had already been invited to spend the day with some friends for a birthday bash, which meant I avoided the hours of temptation I would have faced if I spent the day at home in front of the laptop. And that, I suppose, is one thing that has changed; instead of seeing a weekend alone as an excuse to plan long and elaborate porn-watching sessions, I am spending it out and about with friends.

In doing so, I feel I am almost having to rediscover who I am. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what I mean by that, but the fundamental drive of my daily activity has now changed. Before, when out with friends, I would always have in the back of my mind when I would next be able to watch porn. I would more than likely cut the night short to achieve this. Now, the night feels natural and I am in no hurry to get home. I feel like I am re-learning what it is to be me, when out with friends.

There are a number of unexpected and deeply subtle effects that going ‘clean’ is having on me, and I am learning about them as I go. It is not as simple as I thought it might be, and there are some fundamentally important issues of self that I am being forced to think about that I had never considered before.

While my girlfriend has been, and continues to be, amazingly supportive, the strain is beginning to show as the longer-term impacts of this addiction start to be felt. I am not feeling particularly hopefully or complacent right now, and I hope more than anything else that my relationship can survive this.