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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!

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!

A recent overview of my journey posted to Reddit

I recently discovered the sub-reddit r/NoFap. I did actually stumble across this a while ago but never gave it much thought, but actually I think this could be a really valuable resource for porn addicts in recovery. There appears to be a thriving and active community of users in similar situations, all willing to share their experiences and thoughts for the benefit of others.

Therefore I decided to write a post introducing myself to the community, which turned out to a be fairly lengthy background of my journey, where I am now and what I want to achieve. I’ve included the full post below:

 

Another recruit to r/NoFap, hello! Here’s my story.

Just thought I’d say hi here, as I think this sub-reddit could be really useful for me and I really like the community spirit that seems to exist here.

By way of introduction, I thought it would be worth giving a bit of background to my own personal journey with porn addiction.

My porn use started in my early teens when I was at an all-boys private school for ages 8-13 (magazines shared around secretly amongst the boys in the later years). This then quickly ‘went digital’ as I got access to a computer and internet at public school (also all-boys). It started with waiting half an hour to download a single image, slowly building huge collections on my computer of image sets, sorted by porn star. As bandwidth increased, I moved to videos, when ‘tube’ sites back then would release a free video in parts which you could join together once you had them all, one part a day. Then through to the digital porn experience we all know so well today – torrents and tube sites.

I’m now 31 and commonly my usage is daily or twice daily – often I will lie in bed in the morning waiting for my wife to go to work so I could watch porn before going to work. I usually get in 30-45 minutes late to work because of this on a daily basis (fortunately I have a pretty cushty job where my manager doesn’t care when I come and go). I’ll often not go to bed with my wife because I stay up watching porn. Its not every night, but very often. When left on my own at home, e.g. for a weekend, I’ll regularly go on porn binges, masturbating until I almost can’t any longer. I’ll download gigabytes of torrents which I instantly am bored of once I’ve watched them once. Fortunately I’ve never really moved on to harder/weirder stuff, and I’ve not had any problems with ED or anything like that.

So porn has been a permanent companion for all of my adult life. I don’t know life without it. I’ve managed to keep it a secret all this time, and currently I am married, with a newly pregnant wife, a mortgage and a good job and healthy work/life balance. Socially, I am actually pretty outgoing, but I have two extremes – I’m either the life of the party, able to talk to anyone, or I feel uncomfortable and just want to go home, often putting my foot in it when I try and talk to people. I haven’t quite worked out what makes me slip into which ‘mode’.

I think my porn use stems from a desire to escape – I love that I can switch off from the world and all my responsibilities and just disappear into this world of guaranteed, no hassle gratification. Funnily enough, I have the same thoughts about weed – once I discovered weed in my early 20s I was instantly hooked. It complemented my porn addiction well by encouraging me to get stoned in my room and stay up all night watching porn and smoking, and it aws another way to escape. I continued smoking daily for about 5 years or so until my girlfriend gave me an ultimatum to stop, which I did. Now I smoke occasionally when with friends – but I can’t own it – if I buy some, I smoke it constantly and lose all control over it – just like with porn. They both allow me to escape, but it must be more than that? I don’t know. I also happen to know that my dad has some sex issues – during my childhood I remember finding weird bondage porn mags and I’ve always suspected he’s got a dark side. I even found out recently he cheated on my mum many years ago with a prostitute and got an STD. I don’t know if there’s something in the genes therefore that could make me more inclined towards porn addiction? Who knows, this is something I’m interested to explore though.

So why am I writing all this? Well, I want to take control of my life. I am tired of feeling a slave to temporary impulses. I regret all the times that my wife is horny and I’m not because I masturbated earlier or the night before. I no longer want to feel down and de-energised because porn has sapped my energy. I want to stop being late to work because I’m watching porn. I want to stop having not enough sleep because I’m up late watching porn. I want to respect myself, my body and my family enough to take control over this. It is ridiculous to live as a slave to something so pointless and unreal.

I admitted it to my wife about 3 years ago and while she was shocked, hurt and just didn’t understand it, she appreciated my honesty and that I was trying to do something about it. I started a blog and a twitter account, and for a few short weeks she helped me by making sure I got out of bed in the morning and other things like that. It didn’t last though and I know she found it easier to stop asking when she knew I was reverting. Since then I’ve tried numerous times to quit on my own without telling anyone but just lacked the motivation as there is no real immediate consequence of giving in.

But this time I’m going to make it work.

I am potentially going to be a father. I don’t want to be a creepy father like my dad, as much as I love him. I feel a renewed sense of motivation. I know that I am better than this, and that I can beat it. I’m scared of the prospect of seeking professional help as that would mean admitting defeat – surely I must be able to conquer my own life? Currently I’m only on day 6 of nofap, and I’m acutely aware of how hard it will be, but I’m putting everything into this. At some point, when I feel I’ve made significant progress, I will tell my wife again. I just want to be able to tell her I’m making progress, not just that I still have the problem. (She is aware of my healingmybrain online identity so could easily find this post if she wanted and I’m ok with that).

So I’m engaging more on Twitter, and now here, am keeping a journal and will hopefully write some more blog posts. Reading about others is really helpful and there must be so many more out there. I think strong mental positivity and re-affirmation of values is important so I constantly remind myself of why I’m doing this. I am taking pride in taking control over the urges. When I get an urge, I think of how I’m better than porn and I’m kicking its ass. I remind myself that the urges and fantasies are part of the old me, a mis-aligned brain that is now being repaired.

One thing I don’t believe is that porn is “evil”, “bad” or any of the other blanket statements that get applied to it. I think it is like any other addictive substance – dangerous if not controlled or used in excess, and requires education to ensure it is used responsibly. I dislike people, especially religious organisations, who jump on the porn bandwagon to proclaim it as evil and that it should be banned etc, usually just to promote their own beliefs and recruit others. It distracts from the core problem – a lack of education at puberty of the dangers of porn. No-one knew of the risks when the internet first came out, and like tobacco companies, we certainly can’t look to the porn companies for help. Our understanding is still evolving, so I encourage reasoned debates based in facts and science. While I am pleased for anyone that beats this using religion, as an atheist I see that as swapping one false reality (porn) for another (religion), but I don’t judge others if it works for them.

So there we go. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and generally get involved with the community, as together we can beat this thing.