porn addiction

A broken ankle and a lot of stress

A few weeks ago I broke my ankle in two places by falling off a hoverboard. I’ve since had an operation where they inserted metal plates and screws to hold the bones together and now I have a fun 6 weeks of ‘non weight bearing’, stuck on the sofa.

I have already seen some real challenges this is posing to recovery. Simply being entirely reliant on my wife for food, drink and anything else has put a huge amount of stress on us as a couple. This coincides at a time where she’s going back to work, I’m about to change jobs, we’re having a load of building work about to start and our daughter is starting nursery. There’s a lot going on and I can’t help at all around the house – my wife is having to do everything.

We’ve had some bad days. I’ve got stressed because I’m in pain and can’t do anything. My wife gets stressed because she has to be responsible for everything. We’re both anxious about how we feel about our daughter going into nursery, to the point where we may make some serious decisions about our employment to change that. However, we are talking through the challenges and doing our best to stay positive and motivated and help each other out.

And the result? Well, I’ve acted out once (well a few times, in one day, as is the way). I’m doing my best in terms of sobriety since the illness-fuelled December, and this is really a spanner in the works.

Being sofa-bound and home-alone for the next 4 weeks is going to be a serious challenge. I will get frustrated, bored and lonely, and all these things are triggers. So I’m going to work on a daily routine, including journalling, reading my pillars, general reading, doing some work, having a break, playing some music etc, to ensure I stay occupied and interested.

If I can make it through the next 4 weeks sober, that’ll be a great achievement.

Checking in for 2016

Its high time I wrote an update, so here goes.

December was a rollercoaster, and it triggered a revisiting of my approach to recovery (including temporarily giving up on recovery altogether).

To give some context then, a quick look back at 2015…

Here’s my complete recovery chart for 2015, which shows the %age days ‘clean’ each month:

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 22.11.13

As you can see, it isn’t exactly trending in the right direction. Actually generating this graph just now to insert here was saddening as it was the first time I’ve really looked back at the year, and I didn’t realise who clearly the trend is going in the wrong direction. This actually reinforces my latest approach perhaps, which I’ll come on to.

Recovery approach in 2015

So how did I approach recovery in 2015?

Jan and Feb were 100% clean. This was the height of my recovery, where I was excited by it, engaged, learning new things, and perhaps riding on the novelty of it all. I also had a pretty comprehensive set of routines I followed, including:

  • Seeing therapist and attending SAA meetings weekly (but not doing 12 steps).
  • Included a lot of psychological work on my childhood, reasons for addiction etc.
  • Active on Twitter/Blog/Reddit in recovery groups
  • Experimented with meditation
  • Increased my cycling (20 miles a day commute 3 days a week)
  • Worked on self-awareness and productivity
  • Wrote in my journal every day

At the end of February, my daughter was born. This was an incredible time, but unfortunately it completely de-railed my recovery. Overnight I lost the ability to attend SAA or therapy as I had to rush home to look after the family. I then stopped doing my other recovery techniques – I was tired, and lost focus as I was 100% focussed on fatherhood.

So then I started slipping up; acting out to porn. At first I hoped it was a one off, but then it clearly became routine. I actually sort of gave myself permission to do this, due to the pressures of fatherhood (“I don’t have time or energy to dedicate myself to both, so recovery will have to wait”).

Slowly I re-introduced therapy at a reduced frequency and started trying to get sober again, but I guess it wasn’t enough as the sobriety didn’t really improve, and so eventually, around September, I admitted I needed to re-commit to recovery.

I returned to SAA in September, with a renewed commitment to change. I even accepted that I’ll give the 12 steps a go, something I had always been reluctant to do in the past. I got a sponsor and started Step 1. Unfortunately, nothing changed. In fact, things got worse. Part of the recovery required I re-implement the ‘blocks’ on my various devices, and for reasons I’ve covered at length on this blog, I really struggle with these. This is basically because due to my technical prowess and love of problem-solving, there isn’t really a block in the world that I can’t find a workaround to, and so the blocks actually heighten the excitement of acting out, as they extend the ‘hunt’. However, in good faith, I persevered and kept refining the blocks, closing the loopholes as I found them.

Crunch time

Something wasn’t right though. My sobriety wasn’t improving and I quickly lost motivation towards doing the step work, and that’s when it all came crashing down. In early December my sponsor directly challenged my commitment to recovery, essentially asking me if I actually wanted to quit. He implied that I needed to make some hard decisions and he may not be the right person to be my sponsor any more.

It hit me really hard, harder than I expected. It made me question everything. Initially it was that feeling of rejection. I had struggled with the concept of ‘someone being there for me no matter what’ for ages, probably as a result of the usual lack of self-esteem that is typical in addicts. Just as I was coming to accept that someone was willing to be that person in my life, that very person says actually they might not be. It wasn’t great news.

He was right to say it though. The thing is, my acting out had reached a point that could easily be considered ‘normal’ – once every week or two, with little to no tangible negative consequences. I wasn’t displaying any of the truly destructive tendencies from when I was in the depths of the addiction – I no longer take it out on my wife etc. But, I’m still addicted. When I do act out, it is from a compulsion to do so that I cannot control. It takes me over physically, and requires a lot of being sneaky and manipulation to get myself into a position where I can act out at home. These are not things I can accept and therefore need to stop.

As a result of this conversation with my sponsor, I took a break from SAA and recovery altogether. I was fed up with it, tired that nothing I did was working, despite feeling that I was putting in loads of effort. I was also moving house which was giving me enough to think about. Then I got ill with a sinus infection over Christmas for 3 weeks. I found more loopholes on my devices while I was bed-ridden, and acted out loads. Hence the big dip in December on the chart.

So, what now, for 2016?

Anyway, now, I am recovered from the illness and ready to get back to the game of recovery. Again…!

I’m constructing what approach I think I will take now, and the main difference right now is that it will almost certainly not involve the 12 steps, and possibly not even SAA. That topic is probably a whole post in itself, but deep down I have felt unable to mentally connect with the SAA approach, and I just don’t think it is for me. This is not for lack of trying!

So I’m heading back towards an approach that stems, funnily enough, from what inspired me to start recovery in the very first place in 2014, and that is to blend an understanding of the specific physiological nuances of porn addiction with leading a healthier, more positive and productive daily life. While the delving into my childhood has been really interesting, I think there’s an element of just needing to be present and get on with things, rather than over-thinking how my actions are influenced by my past. I also intend to tailor my approach specifically to the challenges of porn addiction, rather than the more general ‘sex addiction’, which I have found to be one of the things that distanced me from SAA.

Starting simply then, I’ve started re-implementing some of the original activities:

  • Reading my ‘pillars of recovery’ daily
  • Write in my journal daily (including one thing each day I am grateful for)
  • Reading porn addiction-specific books (e.g. currently Your Brain On Porn)
  • I will probably contact a new therapist in my new town
  • Reduce my gaming to max 1 hour a night
  • Start learning the piano
  • Ensure I remain present each evening, including doing at least one productive thing that contributes to my home/family life
  • Write a post here twice a month
  • Return to and engage with Twitter and Reddit porn addiction communities

In honesty, these are feel a bit loose and not that structured yet, but that might actually be a good thing;I want to find a natural way that I believe in. Also, the blocks will stay on my phone and tablet as they are actually pretty solid now, but my laptop is fully unblocked and always will be due to the inherent insecurity of computers that I can workaround.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed that despite putting in what I thought was a lot of hard work, I didn’t really make any progress in 2015. I’m still doing brilliantly compared to 2014, where I experienced my ‘rock bottom’ moment of being kicked out of the house, but I’ve failed to break through to the next level of sobriety.

I’m also disappointed that SAA hasn’t worked out. I have been aware of a disconnect I’ve felt with it since the beginning, and I think that just grew until I couldn’t ignore it. I will write more about this probably in my next post.

It would be a stretch to say I’m feeling optimistic, and in fact I’m quite nervous that I may be doing this all wrong and I just need to do SAA, or something else similarly rigid, whether I like it or not.

The thing is, a few times in my life when faced with a decision or challenge, I’ve felt something in my gut, and I’m slowly learning to listen it. I remember times when I consciously didn’t and I regretted it, and right now my gut is telling me that SAA isn’t right for me. I think I fit into a different box, and I’m going to give that a go.

If you got this far, thanks for reading! Sorry it was so long; brevity is not my strong point. I hope you all have a fantastic 2016!

Telling a friend about my addiction

Today will probably go down as a very significant day for me. I told a friend about my addiction; the first time I have told a non-family member.

To date, the only people (other than those who I have met in SAA) who know about my addiction are my wife and my sister (and her husband). All three have been incredibly supportive.

Since learning more about addiction, and understanding that addictions thrive in secrecy, I’ve always wanted to tell people, I just wasn’t going to rush it. I want to remove the shame and secrecy from being a porn addict, and that means unifying my secret addict persona with my public persona. Until I do, how can I really know who the ‘real’ me is?

I relate to plenty of commonly-documented traits of various addiction that make telling people hard. I have low self-esteem, so I don’t think other people will care to hear my story. I have low self-worth so I don’t think I should waste other people’s time having to listen to me. I have developed a solitary approach to life which means I distrust others and that in turn makes me fearful of their reaction, expecting the worst at all times.

However, as part of breaking down the above pre-conceptions I have of myself and the world, I knew I wanted to tell the important people in my life, and slowly remove the secrecy. Having told my sister and wife, it felt natural to tell close friends. Unfortunately, and as a specific and cruelly ironic by-product of my addiction, I don’t really have any friends any more. I did in the past, but I’ve been unable to maintain those friendships, as I unconsciously prioritised my addiction, and the personality traits that enhanced it, further and further disconnecting me from other people until it was too late. In fact, the loneliness is by far the single biggest pain I feel, and the single biggest impact of my addiction. It only further enhances my feelings of inadequacy, as only the other day I caught myself thinking, “if I have no friends because of my addiction, why would my wife still choose and love me?”.

Anyway, back to the point. Having thought long and hard, there are really only two friends who, despite only seeing them a few times a year, I consider to be special and who I think will always remain part of my life. One is my best friend from school, and the other my best friend from my post-school life, met the year after I left.

It is she, the second friend, who I told today. We met up and spent an hour walking the banks of the River Thames, where I told her everything. She was so incredibly supportive. I shouldn’t have doubted it. She hugged me, told me how brave I was for dealing with it and telling her, and offered her unconditional support.

Not only that, but she was able to share stories about times in our lives together that relate. She could provide feedback on my personality and other traits as I talked about how they related to my addiction, and it was really interesting to hear her take on it.

For example, when I met up with her about 6 months ago, I was at a stage where I was starting to talk to people about emotions more, as a way to break down the secrecy without going the whole way and admitting to the addiction. So I had talked to her about my father and my relationship with him, and about self-confidence. Today she told me that after that conversation, she left realising that was the first time she had heard me talk about emotions. Obviously she only told me that today because of what I had now confided in her; otherwise I doubt she would have mentioned it, but it was interesting to hear. She essentially confirmed my understanding of my past, in that I had built up a very successful persona that was in no way connected to an emotional capability. I have partly attributed this to 10 years of boarding school from the age of 8, where I was basically taught that the priority of life is survival at all costs, and that emotions, weakness and honesty are not only irrelevant but detrimental to that goal (kids, don’t go to boarding school – your parents should be the ones tucking you in at night, not a matron).

In my experience telling people, I have learned two things about how others react, no matter how supportive they may be:

  1. Even if I tell them that they can ask me about how my recovery is going at any time, and that this should not be a taboo topic, it is very hard for people unfamiliar with addiction to pro-actively raise this in conversation. Where I have hoped those I have told would pro-actively ask me how I was, that hasn’t materialised, yet when I raise the topic myself, they are really engaged in the conversation and continue to be supportive. I have accepted that this is simply a very difficult thing for some people to introduce into a conversation and I accept that, so I make an effort to bring it up.
  2. Perhaps caused by my ability to rationally articulate my struggle, it is possible for people to not realise quite how sensitive the information I’ve provided is. One example is when I told my brother-in-law about one theme of my recovery (being cynical), and the next day he made a joke when I said something he thought was cynical, and joked that he should prod me every time I am. I wasn’t prepared for a topic of my recovery to be used as a joke, and I took it really personally and was really offended. I blew up, but apologised the next day. Reading the above, it may not seem like that big a deal, but trust me, the exposing of the fundamentals of who I am is a difficult and sensitive thing to do, and while of course I actively encourage discussion on it, making jokes out of it, perhaps not quite with my own interests at heart, is not ok. So, when I told my friend today, I told her this – i.e. don’t be flippant with this information.

So that’s it. One more person in my life now knows about my addiction, and is a step closer to knowing the ‘real’ me, or even to helping me find out who that really is.

Cannabis and porn addiction

These days, the only addiction I struggle with is porn, but for a long time, I was a big time weed smoker. That is not to be understated; I was at least as addicted to smoking weed as I was to watching porn, but there are a few differences in how I used these two drugs, and how I was able to quit one of them.

My porn use started at school, so it had a head-start of about 4 years before I discovered weed. I left my oppressive public school to the freedom of a gap year (I moved to a Surrey town for a year to do a 1 year musician course), and almost immediately fell in with a group of weed-smoking locals who to this day I still consider some of the most welcoming and friendly people I have ever met, who taught me so much.

For that year, I became a heavy, daily weed smoker. I even got arrested once for smoking with some friends in a local park. While porn remained an activity I conducted in secret, weed was a social drug for me. I had no paranoia and was extremely sociable, making loads of friends and generally having a blast. This was my first year of independent adulthood since 10 years in the public school boarding system, and I was loving it – learning who I am, and how I am with other non-schoolboys (“real” people!).

The porn continued but didn’t have a destructive influence on me (that I could tell). I remained social and didn’t isolate myself the way I did with porn in later years.

After that year was up, I went to University (that I had already been accepted to before my gap year), and that’s when things changed. Despite making some friends who shared my constant weed smoking passion, my weed use quickly became increasingly solitary, combined with staying up all night watching porn. Smoking and watching porn became my primary hobby, all other things secondary.

I look back at University and do have fond memories. Hell, I even met my now-wife there! But due to my solitary behaviour, I never made the friendship bonds that would endure the years after University. I see the groups of friends all staying in touch and sharing more experiences with each other, but I have drifted away.

It interests me, therefore, to recognise the different roles weed has played in my life. Within a year or two, it went from being a social grease to a solitary enabler. It is like it amplified how I felt about my life. In my gap year, it made me socially relaxed and open minded, but at University, it allowed me to withdraw and fall deeper into my porn addiction. I wonder if perhaps my feelings of distance at University were due to it being something prescribed for me, and an interruption to what I now look back on as the best year of my life. I long for the days of that first year of independence, and then I was back in the education system, resenting and rebelling from it.

A few years after University, my girlfriend (not knowing about the porn at that time) gave me an ultimatum – weed or her. I chose her, and overnight quit weed. This was pretty easy actually, because weed is hard to obtain – it requires making calls to dodgy dealers and meeting them at unsuitable times, and it costs money. Also, I still had the porn. I hadn’t considered that I was addicted to porn at that time, but no doubt quitting the weed would have further increased my reliance on porn.

It is hard to separate the two addictions, to see which was more influential on me, but there are two key differences I am aware of:

  1. Weed is far easier to quit than porn, as it wasn’t immediately available to me without some effort;
  2. Weed can be a force for good if used in the right mental state. It enhanced my life for a period of time. Similarly, it can be destructive if allowed to enhance negative feelings of isolation. Porn, on the other hand, is a purely solitary activity, that will never enhance sociability. There are no long-term benefits to watching porn.

So now I’m left with just the porn addiction. One down, one to go I suppose! This one is proving far more resilient than my weed addiction that’s for sure, but I’m confident I’m taking the right steps to eventually overcome it.

Thanks for reading.

The opposite of addiction is human connection

One of the biggest themes for me in my recovery, and in fact my life, is human connection. All the work I do on recovery and all the things I think about and have to deal with, all come down to it. It is the inescapable truth that lays the foundations for everything else. To many this is obvious, but to an addict like me, stepping back and remembering some fundamental truths about how we should live our lives and what is important can be difficult, so I don’t take anything for granted, no matter how obvious it may seem in hindsight.

What I am talking about is perfectly articulated in the following quote, from Johann Hari’s must-read for any addict: “Chasing The Scream“:

The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.

There are hundreds of quotes of equal lucidity in the book, but this stood out to me.

Without going into too much detail, the book solidifies my existing understanding of the reason for addiction; that it is not simply because someone overdid it with an addictive substance/activity for too long, but that the addiction is a way to deal with pain, loneliness or other fundamental psychological state. In other words, addiction is not simply the result of a chemical or physical dependency, but an antidote for a more fundamental psychological lacking in an individual’s life.

To give one example, a test was carried out by scientist Bruce Alexander (detailed in his book The Globalization of Addiction), interviewed in the book, where he gave rats access to morphine (which acts like heroin for rats). Some rats were put is isolation, and became addicted. Other rats were put in a lush environment with other rats, food, toys etc, and they didn’t become addicted, despite the same access to the heroin. The scientist was able to show that if the addicted rats were placed into the lush environment, despite continued access to the drug, they lost their addiction.

This is amazing. It corroborates the theory that the chemical cause of addiction is only one part of the full story – that the causes of addiction exceed the boundaries of a simple physical or chemical dependency on the drug, and instead relate to some far deeper psychological need for fulfilment in the addict’s life.

It is consistent with my own experience of recovery – both my therapist and the guidance of the 12 steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous cover how simply abstaining from acting out is not enough to recovery – the addict has to address the reasons for their addiction, by taking a long hard look at their family, childhood, friendships etc, to understand what they are using addiction to compensate for.

For some, this might be childhood trauma, abuse, neglect etc. I.e. things that are easy to spot. For others (like me), it is harder to spot. I didn’t, on the face of it, have a hard childhood, but when I look harder I can find instances of loneliness and disconnection. As I grew up and went through school, gap year and university, I see an increasing trend in how I slowly interacted with people less and increasingly used cannabis and porn to spend more time alone. Even when I was being social, I would pride myself on being the resident cynic, never quite engaging with people and always being slightly on the edge of social groups.

I’m still working out why this trend happened. I found more comfort in computers and porn during puberty than I did with friendships, and when I discovered cannabis it accelerated the isolation. Interestingly, during my gap year when I discovered weed, I used it socially and it actually increased my sociability (despite my still-growing my porn addiction), but once I went to university I really withdrew. There may be something to do with the fact that university was prescribed for me whereas my gap year was my choice, and I have issues with authority, so this is an area I’m spending more time thinking about.

Anyway, back to the point: human connection. To fully recover, I need to rebuild my connection with the world and with other people. I have lost touch with most of my friends, whose friendship groups have endured throughout school and university without me. I have prided myself in spending time alone rather than going out. That all has to change. I can’t magically rescue lost friendships or instantly create new ones, but I know now that if I live my life in a new way, according to my values and with empathy, sympathy and compassion, hopefully in time I will form better bonds with people than I have allowed myself to in the past.

So for me, blocking my access to porn and remaining sober is probably the smallest factor in my recovery, as without the self-assessment and implementing living a better life as a better person, the sobriety will be temporary, or the addiction will probably replaced by something else.

To finish with another quote from the book:

“Addiction” he said, “is a disease of loneliness.”

Check in – Day 12 – Starting the 12 Steps

I thought it would be worth writing a post just to check in and put into writing a quick summary of where I am right now. TL;DR: clean for 12 days, got a sponsor, started the 12 steps.

I really struggled over the past month or so, and I’m not quite sure why. What I do know is that I never managed to maintain a daily routine; every time I did, something like a family holiday would come along and disrupt it, leading to acting out. Sometimes I couldn’t get past a few days at a time without acting out, and it really started to depress me. I knew that I had it in me to do better and I couldn’t quite work out why I was now so far away from that.

So, I put my mind to recovery and upped my game. I committed to going back to Sex Addicts Anonymous weekly, with a view to getting a sponsor this time and starting the 12 steps. Before, I attended the meetings and got a lot of benefit, but was always wary of doing the steps. But, if what I’m doing isn’t working, its time to try something new, so 12 steps it is.

I reached out to one of the fellow SAA members who I’ve had a good rapport with since I started going about a year ago, to ask if he’d be willing to be my sponsor. He said he had been thinking the same thing, which was nice. We met up outside the meeting and he talked me through getting started with the steps. This began with defining my outer, middle and inner circles of behaviour, buying A Gentle Path and reading it, and committing to some daily and weekly activities.

It has felt good to have some accountability. If I want to act out, I know that I’ll have to call my sponsor afterwards and tell him. Even if I’m in the middle circle, I will have to tell him. That’s a new incentive I’ve not had before – it makes me consider other people, which sort of bursts the bubble of enjoyment I’d get with acting out slightly.

Daily I am now writing my journal, reading my affirmations (positive statements you tell yourself regularly in order to retrain the brain) and doing some meditation. Twice a week I call my sponsor and also call other SAA members, and do some step work.

It feels good. It is still early days and even today I’ve been feeling a lot of urges (partly why I decided to write a blog post) but I am staying on top of it.

I think there is a lot of value to the 12 steps and SAA. A lot of people are cynical and even opposed to the idea, but as far as I’m concerned, if what I’m doing isn’t working (e.g. I’m not staying sober), then I have a duty to myself to try it.

Helplessness

One of the key concepts of the 12 step recovery program is the acceptance of helplessness. I.e. that you accept you are helpless to beat this addiction on your own. Or at least I think that’s what it means – it is quite complex I think and can be interpreted in different ways according to the individual and what best suits their situation and personal journey of recovery.

Either way, right now I feel helpless. I continue to act out on a regular basis (once or twice a week) using internet porn. Despite all the things I have done, habits I have changed, blocks I have installed etc, I still manage to find a way to act out. I have reached the point where I just don’t know what to do anymore, and that has led me to thinking about this idea of helplessness.

I accept that I cannot do this on my own. I accept that I may have to make drastic changes to my life in order to beat this. For me, accepting that I am not able to beat this on my own, i.e not in my control, is hard to do. I am generally a control-freak – I like knowing I am in control of things and I if I am going to beat addiction, I’ve always felt I need to be responsible for that and be the one to do it. Helplessness, to me, represented the giving up of that control; accepting that I can’t do this and I need more help than perhaps I was willing to admit.

But I’m there now. I have started going back to SAA, and I’ve spoken with a fellow member who may be willing to act as a temporary sponsor for me, getting me started on the 12 steps.

Something needs to change. Just to recap, if only for my benefit, here are the things I am doing:

  1. Going to SAA once a week and seeking out a temporary sponsor to help me get started on the 12 steps.
  2. Installed content blocks on all my devices that my wife has the password to.
  3. No devices in the bedroom.
  4. Always going to bed with my wife and not staying up on my own.
  5. Increasing therapy from once a month to twice a month, and possibly even going to once a week (that’s how often it used to be during my best period of sobriety)

What is incredibly frustrating is that despite the above, I still acted out today. Acting out really drains the motivation. It creates a little seed of depression and desperation inside me that is just bursting to grow if I let it. It wants me to give up, it wants me to accept defeat and stop fighting. It wants me to think I am worthless and that there is no point in trying to live a better life. The periods after acting out (like what I am in now) are hard, and I need to stay strong and motivated.

Here’s to the fight.

A Re-Commitment to Recovery

This post is copied verbatim from today’s journal entry

Day 1

I wonder how many times I have written “day 1” in my journal? It is probably not worth counting – too depressing? But here we are again, and like many times before, I’m hoping this time will be different, and here’s why.

I achieved my longest streak of sobriety by a country mile in January and February this year, before slipping up and slowly returning to a cycle of weekly acting out to porn. At the end of February I became a dad, and so my strict routines of recovery came to an end – I could no longer go to SAA or counselling as I needed to be at home to look after my daughter after work, lack of sleep meaning I wasn’t on good form, things like that.

For a while, the disruption to my routine due to fatherhood was ‘justified’, in the sense that it was kind of explainable and acceptable. But after a while, my sleep and evenings returned and the excuse grew thin. But I didn’t restart my recovery. Instead, I told myself I could do this myself without things like SAA and so I set to work trying to achieve sobriety through my own actions, like willpower, writing my diary, going to bed on time, turning off devices in bed, etc. All these things I tried at various different times as I thought was required to get sober, but every time I tried something new, I still slipped up. Looking back through the past few months, it is clear none of it has made any difference.

Something has to change.

Clearly what I’ve been doing, however well intentioned, is not enough. I came to realise that what is missing is a lifestyle change, like what I was achieving at the beginning of the year in my peak of sobriety. Back then, I was clear about my goals. I was applying empathy to situations and those around me. I was going to SAA and therapy weekly. Things were on the up, and that’s what I need to get back to. I need to live recovery, not just think it.

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A Day One chip for a fresh start

On Monday I called a fellow member of SAA I used to have a connection with. We had a great chat and during the call I decided to go back to the SAA group I used to attend, which I did last night. I even collected my first “day 1” chip to represent a fresh start and a fresh commitment to recovery. I went for a meal with the SAA guys afterwards and continued to have good conversations. It was a great feeling to be back and talk openly again.

I guess what I’ve learned is that it is crazy how easy it is to slip back into the grip of the addiction, without even realising it. I thought that I was being productive in my recovery, but in fact I was just putting in half-hearted steps that always left room for acting out.

One thing I was asked was “why do you want to quit”, and whereas I usually have a solid answer for that, this time I stumbled. And that made me realise the addiction had regained its grip on me – I had allowed myself to forget why I even wanted to quit. If you don’t know that, you have no way of recovering.

I am also considering finding a sponsor and doing the 12 steps. I was hesitant before because I was assessing so much of myself anyway through therapy, but that’s kind of stopped now and I think I need a way of maintaining a level of conscious self-assessment so I don’t take my eye off the ball, and I think the 12 steps might provide that. Besides, I am in no position to be setting boundaries for what I am prepared to do to recover – I must be willing to do anything, whatever the cost, and if the 12 steps might help, I have a duty to myself and those around me to try it.

I will be trying to blog once a week from now on, no matter how long or short, and writing in my journal (this post is a copy of today’s entry) daily, as well as attending SAA weekly and I am also going to start Yoga on a weekly basis. Add to that increasing my therapy frequency (currently its down to once a month) and reaching out to the SAA network, I hope I am setting in place some steps that will really make a difference to my recovery.

I hope you all are doing well in your recovery, and remember you are not alone. If you ever want to get in touch, for any reason at all, please do.

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.